Feb 17, 2021 - Economy & Business

Hedge funds will be the villain at GameStop hearing

Illustration of a hand operating a marionette attached to a stock trend line

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The House Financial Services Committee will convene a hearing tomorrow on "recent market volatility involving GameStop stock and other stocks" to continue the whodunnit of the current state of financial markets, especially U.S. stocks.

What's happening: Chair Maxine Waters will question the CEOs of Reddit, Robinhood, Citadel Securities, Melvin Capital and Keith Gill, also known as Roaring Kitty or u/DeepF--kingValue.

  • She will "examine the recent activity around GameStop (GME) stock and other impacted stocks with a focus on short selling, online trading platforms, gamification and their systemic impact on our capital markets and retail investors."

Between the lines: Waters has made clear who she believes the villains to be in this story, noting in a Jan. 28 press release that "[h]edge funds have a long history of predatory conduct and that conduct is entirely indefensible. Private funds preying on the pension funds of hard working Americans must be stopped."

Reality check: It's unclear how the hedge funds' speculative activity and predatory conduct hurt anyone besides their clients.

  • Most of the retail traders, including Gill, made money as a result of the hedge funds' short positions.
  • Even after the huge losses that GameStop shares suffered in the past two weeks, the stock remains nearly three times higher than its price at the beginning of the year and is more than 10 times higher than where it traded a year ago.
  • The volatility in GameStop and other "meme" stocks was largely contained to those stocks, while the overall market saw volatility decline and major indexes rise to record highs.

The big picture: That could mean the culprits for the excesses and wild swings in the market are elsewhere, and central bankers have spent the past week doing their best to keep eyes from looking in their direction.

What they're saying: St. Louis Fed president James Bullard became the latest central banker to insist that, in fact, there is no bubble. “You do see speculative frenzies from time to time in markets, and that’s part of the process.”

  • European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde last week sought to distance central banks from the discussion, arguing that market frenzies and inequality were "clearly ... not for central banks to address."
  • Fed chair Jerome Powell has outright denied that there's any sort of connection between central banks drowning markets in liquidity and bubble conditions.
  • And on Monday Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who oversees a central bank that is the single largest stock holder in the country, chimed in: “Optimism over the global economic outlook and steady vaccine roll-outs may be behind the recent surge in stock prices.”

This is despite essentially all of Wall Street, most former central bankers and their own research refuting such claims.

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