The GameStop Fiasco Proves We’re in a ‘Meme Stock’ Bubble
What the new dynamic between Redditors and Wall Street reveals about the stock market in 2021
Money Talks is a column that explores what happens when business, the economy, and culture collide.
GameStop is a struggling, kind of boring, mid-size retailer stuck in a legacy business — selling physical video games. But it’s also pretty much the only company anyone on Wall Street is talking about right now after its stock rose 160% in a matter of hours on Monday morning to an all-time high of $159. (By day’s end, GameStop’s price had been cut by more than half, but that still left it up more than 300% this year and almost 3,000% from its 52-week low. And it was up another 15% at Tuesday’s open.)
It isn’t GameStop’s precipitous rise, impressive as that’s been, that has everyone fascinated. Instead, it’s what is fueling that rise: concentrated buying by thousands upon thousands of small individual investors who are using sites like Reddit and Robinhood to drive up what are now being called “meme stocks.” GameStop is the best-known of these meme stocks, simply because its gains have become so outrageous. But it was preceded last year by Hertz and Kodak, which, despite having struggling businesses, saw their stock prices soar when they became Reddit darlings. And now stocks like AMC, Nokia, and Blackberry (which is, yes, still in business) have also caught Redditors’ fancy.
It’s easy to see the meme-stock boom as just a speculative bubble, and evidence of how the current stock market has lost touch with reality. Speculative bubbles in so-called “story stocks” are, after all, familiar things on Wall Street. In the late 1950s, uranium stocks soared, followed a few years later by bowling stocks, and then RV stocks. (In 1969, a company called Skyline Homes saw its shares rise twentyfold.) And we all know what happened to internet stocks in the late ’90s. But in fact, what’s happening with meme stocks is very different from those previous crazes.