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Memes have broken the brokerages

Memes have broken the brokerages


Several brokers are experiencing outages

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Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

In retrospect, stock memes were inevitable. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of brokerages weren’t ready.

Vanguard, Charles Schwab, and Fidelity Investments, among others, have been experiencing outages, The Wall Street Journal reports. None of the brokerages would tell the WSJ specifically why the outages were happening. Also, Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade are restricting trading around GameStop and AMC, as individual investors pile into these companies, MarketWatch reports.

See, GameStop stock rose an astounding 1,600 percent in January alone, MarketWatch points out. What happened is a little complex, but basically boils down to traders gathering on Reddit, Discord, and elsewhere to encourage others to buy call options on the stock. The internet’s exuberance over GameStop has also affected AMC, Bed Bath and Beyond, BlackBerry, Tootsie Roll, and other companies. The trading action has further enriched some of the world’s richest people. It has also caught the attention of Janet Yellen, the US Treasury secretary.

Over the last decade, most of us have seen the power that social networks can bring to bear on politics, for instance, and media. Now, social networks are disrupting finance. The pandemic has more people day trading — 2020 was a record high in the volume of individual trading, Devin Ryan, an analyst with JMP Securities, told The Wall Street Journal. And collectives of retail traders can use platforms such as Discord, Twitch, and Reddit to coordinate their actions in real time.

Until recently, it was hard to imagine that doing a trade would be as easy as posting to Instagram, but here we are. And what’s more, trading is cheaper than ever — free at many brokerages — reducing further the amount of confidence an investor might need in a stock to buy options on it. Right now, Robinhood, a broker that allows free trades on stocks and options, is the most popular free app in Apple’s App Store.

The result of this frenzy is what appears to be a massive casino, but investors beware: at a casino, the house always wins.