Late last month, I and many of my colleagues of the Millennial age were treated to a flurry of headlines that many of us in that age bracket were able to piece together, but which might have left those of a more senior generation scratching their collective heads. The battle between Wall Street and an army of social media users over stock trading perhaps led to some new terminology entering the lexicon of those beyond the Millennial age group. No doubt the words ‘Reddit’, ‘subreddit’, and ‘GameStop’ caused a few crossed eyes. Allow me to explain.
GameStop Corporation is a publicly traded company that, for much of the 1990s and early 2000s, operated a slew of brick-and-mortar retail stores selling video games, consoles, and other associated merchandise worldwide. As a bright-eyed middle-schooler during the height of GameStop’s market control, many a Friday night was spent wandering the aisles with friends eagerly looking to spend my allowance on the next craze.
As a result of a shift in the direction of the video game industry towards digital and online fare, as well decreased engagement as a result of the pandemic, GameStop’s brick-and-mortar sales model, and retail models more generally, saw a historic decline in sales and revenue. As the demand for GameStop’s business model declined, so did its share price.
This decline did not go unnoticed by certain savvy Wall Street hedge funds and other institutional investors. Shares in GameStop were a popular purchase among “short sellers” looking to turn a profit as a result of the company’s misfortunes. Briefly summarized, short-selling occurs when an investor borrows a particular stock from a stockholder, then sells that stock to a third-party investor willing to pay current market price for the security, on the short-seller’s expectation that the share price will have decreased by the time the loan from the original stockholder is called. The short-seller would then repurchase the borrowed stock from the third-party investor at the now-lower share price before returning ownership to the original stockholder and earning a profit on the difference.
In the case of the GameStop saga, the short-selling attempts by some large hedge funds and institutional investors did not proceed as planned. Members of a specific community under the Reddit platform – individually, a ‘subreddit’ – discovered in late 2020 that GameStop stock had been ‘shorted’ to an unprecedented degree. In essence, hedge funds and investors had bet significant sums on the continued decline of GameStop, intending to turn a profit as the share price was expected to continue dropping.
Members of the ‘WallStreetBets’ subreddit saw an opportunity to ‘squeeze’ the investors by collectively purchasing a significant portion of the available stock in GameStop, driving up the price-per-share to historic highs and decimating the intended ‘short’. The price-per-share ballooned from around $20 in early 2021 to a staggering $350 per share by the end of January. Many of the investors and hedge funds who had bet on the price decreasing from $20 were now compelled by their loan obligations to repurchase shares at a price many times higher than their initial capital investment, incurring significant losses in the process.
Although the frenzy around GameStop and other publicly-traded companies such as AMC has died down in recent weeks, as of today’s date GameStop is still trading at around $51 per share, more than double the share price at the beginning of the year. The incident has also drawn the ire of securities regulators as well as the US Congress. Game over?
The next blog in this series will tie in the concepts of short-selling and the fundamentals at play in the GameStop incident to the obligations of fiduciaries to act as prudent investors.
Thanks for reading.
Listen to Delegation in Investment Accounts
This week on Hull on Estate and Succession Planning, Ian and Suzana discuss delegation issues that arise when dealing with Investment Accounts and address a listeners question about the family cottage.
Listen to The Investment Accounts.
This week on Hull on Estates and Succession Planning, Ian and Suzana conduct a quick lesson on capital encroachment and discuss the role of investment accounts in the passing of accounts.
Not all Wills provide for an outright distribution to the beneficiaries. In some cases, the assets of an estate are held in trust over a period of time for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries, sometimes in succession. When a trustee administers a trust, he or she is entrusted to act for the benefit of others. As such, our common law and statutes impose standards that trustees must comply with when dealing with trust property.
With the recent plummet in the stock market, I believe many trustees are considering how the stock market losses have affected the trust investments and what action they should take in the circumstances.
Section 27 of the Trustee Act addresses the standard of care for trustees when investing assets held in a trust. Section 27(1) states, “in investing trust property, a trustee must exercise the care, skill, diligence and judgment that a prudent investor would exercise in making investments”. Section 27(2) states that “a trustee may invest trust property in any form of property in which a prudent investor might invest”.
Section 27(1) and (2) outlines the prudent investor rule. When investing trust assets, a trustee must comply with the prudent investor rule to protect himself or herself from liability. Section 28 of the Trustee Act, emphasizes this point as it states that a Trustee will not be liable for losses arising from investments if the standard of the prudent investor is met. Nevertheless, the issue remains how does a trustee meet the “prudent investor” standard? In keeping with this theme, tomorrow I will address how a trustee’s investment performance may be assessed.
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!