Silver soared, then dropped. Whatever happens now, the metal’s price movements will look nothing like what happened with the stocks that faced a spectacular short squeeze and are now falling.
Monday, the price of actual silver rose as much as 9% to $29.52 per ounce. “Retail traders who drove the short squeezes in stocks like GME last week were banding together to try and trigger a squeeze in silver,” wrote Tom Essaye, founder of Seven’s Report Research, in a note.
It all revolves around the practice of short selling, where people borrow a stock and sell it, hoping the price will fall, making it possible to buy shares at a lower price and return them. A short squeeze happens when the price of the stock rises, rather than falls, forcing short sellers to buy. If a lot of the stock available for trading has been sold short, there can be a scramble to buy that triggers spectacular price gains.
That is what happened with GameStop (ticker: GME) last month. Other stocks that had been aggressively sold short surged as well.
But the iShares Silver Trust (SLV), after rising 11% to $27.76 a share Monday, is now down 11% from that level. There are key differences between companies like GameStop and AMC Entertainment (AMC) and silver.
First off, GameStop rose as much as 1,800% in a few weeks in January. AMC rose as much as 890% in roughly the same period. The iShares Silver exchange-traded fund, which buys futures contracts linked to the direction of the metal’s price, rose to roughly its all-time high of $27, set in August, and failed to break past it.
With the price down Tuesday, fundamentals, rather than the possibility of a short squeeze, are returning to the fore. While silver is an asset that can take part in a “reflation rally,” or one that occurs when economic stimulus jolts an economy out of recession and spurs inflation, that possibility doesn’t seem to have been enough to send the silver ETF to a new high.
Importantly, options trading was an important factor in the gains for GameStop and AMC. Retail traders were buying calls, or the right to buy shares at a specified strike price on a later date. The hope is that an option’s strike price will be lower than the stock’s price when that day comes, making it possible to buy at the strike price and make a profit by immediately selling on the open market.
That possibility forces the brokers who wrote the options contracts to hedge by buying the shares. It adds to demand for a stock and can contribute to a short squeeze, as appears to have happened with GameStop and AMC. Retail traders posting on Reddit were able to move the stock without much capital because they could buy call options at a far lower price per underlying share than the cost of the actual stock.
For silver, the overarching theme is that retail traders can’t summon up the large pool of capital needed to create huge demand for silver.
Traders aren’t buying calls on silver right now, Andrew Smith, chief investment strategist at Delos Capital Advisors, told Barron’s, citing the activity he saw Tuesday. That’s partly because buying calls on commodity ETFs, which reflect a blended forward expected price—based on the prices forecast for several different dates—is a complex process.
Buying silver outright, which is what retail traders did, requires much more money. There are no call options and no need for brokers to hedge against them.
“Squeezing the market isn’t likely” from here, wrote Jeff Currie, global head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs, in a note. In order for the WallStreetBets crowd to send silver prices up the 700% they rose in 1980, when the wealthy Hunt brothers gobbled up almost one-third of the global supply, they would have to own 4,600 tons of silver each.
Silver could certainly charge ahead, just not so fast so soon.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual
Investors are taming impulsive money moves by adding a little friction to financial transactions
To break the day-trading habit that cost him friendships and sleep, crypto fund manager Thomas Meenink first tried meditation and cycling. They proved no substitute for the high he got scrolling through investing forums, he said.
Instead, he took a digital breath. He installed software that imposed a 20-second delay whenever he tried to open CoinStats or Coinbase.
Twenty seconds might not seem like much, but feels excruciating in smartphone time, he said. As a result, he checks his accounts 60% less.
“I have to consciously make an effort to go look at stuff that I actually want to know instead of scrolling through feeds and endless conversations about stuff that is actually not very useful,” he said.
More people are adding friction to curb all types of impulsive behaviour. App-limiting services such as One Sec and Opal were originally designed to help users cut back on social-media scrolling.
Now, they are being put to personal-finance use by individuals and some banking and investing platforms. On One Sec, the number of customers using the app to add a delay to trading or banking apps more than quintupled between 2021 and 2022. Opal says roughly 5% of its 100,000 active users rely on the app to help spend less time on finance apps, and 22% use it to block shopping apps such as Amazon.com Inc.
Economic researchers and psychologists say introducing friction into more apps can help people act in their own best interests. Whether we are trading or scrolling social media, the impulsive, automatic decision-making parts of our brains tend to win out over our more measured critical thinking when we use our smartphones, said Ankit Kalda, a finance professor at Indiana University who has studied the impact of mobile trading apps on investor behaviour.
His 2021 study tracked the behaviour of investors on different platforms over seven years and found that experienced day traders made more frequent, riskier bets and generated worse returns when using a smartphone than when using a desktop trading tool.
Most financial-technology innovation over the past decade focused on reducing the friction of moving money around to enable faster and more seamless transactions. Apps such as Venmo made it easier to pay the babysitter or split a bill with friends, and digital brokerages such as Robinhood streamlined mobile trading of stocks and crypto.
These innovations often lead customers to trade or buy more to the benefit of investing and finance platforms. But now, some customers are finding ways to slow the process. Meanwhile, some companies are experimenting with ways to create speed bumps to protect users from their own worst instincts.
When investing app Stash launched retirement accounts for customers in 2017, its customer-service representatives were flooded with calls from panicked customers who moved quickly to open up IRAs without understanding there would be penalties for early withdrawals. Stash funded the accounts in milliseconds once a customer opted in, said co-founder Ed Robinson.
So to reduce the number of IRAs funded on impulse, the company added a fake loading page with additional education screens to extend the product’s onboarding process to about 20 seconds. The change led to lower call-centre volume and a higher rate of customers deciding to keep the accounts funded.
“It’s still relatively quick,” Mr. Robinson said, but those extra steps “allow your brain to catch up.”
Some big financial decisions such as applying for a mortgage or saving for retirement can benefit from these speed bumps, according to ReD Associates, a consulting firm that specialises in using anthropological research to inform design of financial products and other services. More companies are starting to realise they can actually improve customer experiences by slowing things down, said Mikkel Krenchel, a partner at the firm.
“This idea of looking for sustainable behaviour, as opposed to just maximal behaviour is probably the mind-set that firms will try to adopt,” he said.
Slowing down processing times can help build trust, said Chianoo Adrian, a managing director at Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America. When the money manager launched its online retirement checkup tool last year, customers were initially unsettled by how fast the website estimated their projected lifetime incomes.
“We got some feedback during our testing that individuals would say ‘Well, how did you know that already? Are you sure you took in all my responses?’ ” she said. The company found that the delay increased credibility with customers, she added.
For others, a delay might not be enough to break undesirable habits.
More people have been seeking treatment for day-trading addictions in recent years, said Lin Sternlicht, co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist, who has seen an increase in cases since the start of the pandemic.
“By the time individuals seek out professional help they are usually experiencing a crisis, and there is often pressure to seek help from a loved one,” she said.
She recommends people who believe they might have a day-trading problem unsubscribe from notifications and emails from related companies and change the color scheme on the trading apps to grayscale, which has been found to make devices less addictive. In extreme cases, people might want to consider deleting apps entirely.
For Perjan Duro, an app developer in Berlin, a 20-second delay wasn’t enough. A few months after he installed One Sec, he went a step further and deleted the app for his retirement account.
“If you don’t have it on your phone, [that] helps you avoid that bad decision,” he said.
What a quarter-million dollars gets you in the western capital.
Self-tracking has moved beyond professional athletes and data geeks.