Could Amateur Investors Return the Walt Disney Company to the Principles of Walt Disney?

I wonder what amateur investors could do if they had more serious motives than hatred of elite short-sellers? What if they had the motive, for example, of returning the Walt Disney Company to the principles of Walt Disney? I do not endorse the ambiguity (how much fictional and how much nonfictional) of the book reviewed below. But the GameStop and AMC episodes are intriguing proofs-of-concept.

(p. A15) Until late last year, GameStop was a typical and not very successful corporation. The company sold videogames through a chain of retail outlets and lost money on every sale. But its stock caught the interest of small investors who traded on Robinhood, a mobile trading app, and the stock began to levitate.

From single digits in October 2020 the stock price doubled to 20 late last year. Then, over a few manic days in January, it vaulted “like a lid flying off a pot,” as Ben Mezrich puts it in “The Antisocial Network.” It went up to 77, then 148, then 348 and then an intraday high of 483—at which point GameStop was worth more than $30 billion. Briefly, it was the most heavily traded issue on the stock market.

The source of the mayhem was, to borrow from the book’s subtitle, “a ragtag group of amateur traders.” Few of the devotees who flocked to GameStop thought of themselves as even armchair security analysts. They were infected by crowd psychology and, in some cases, driven by the hope that the high price would punish well-to-do short sellers.

. . .

Even when the price hit the stratosphere, retail buyers professed not to be worried. They would “never” sell; they weren’t concerned with the possibility of losing money. “Oh im [sic] fully aware that I may end up a bagholder,” went one post. “But it’s worth being a bagholder to stick it to those Wall Street f—s who’ve gamed the system for so long at our expense.”

To Mr. Mezrich, such fulminations suggest that a revolution is a-coming. His thesis is vented in excited metaphors. The “pillars” of Wall Street are shaking; Melvin Capital faces an “existential moment” (which, actually, it survived); angry traders constitute a “millennial version of the French Revolution.”

A little of this gas comes from investors; most of it is supplied by Mr. Mezrich. “The Antisocial Network” is built on scenes that the author has re-created; quotation marks, in the main, are conveniently absent. He writes of one novice but gung-ho investor, who worked in a hair salon: “She believed something deeper was happening.” Did she say that? Is it a paraphrase? Is it what Mr. Mezrich thinks she believed?

For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. “BOOKSHELF; Let Them Eat Shorts.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Sept. 07, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 6, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Antisocial Network’ Review: Let Them Eat Shorts.”)

The book under review is:

Mezrich, Ben. The Antisocial Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2021.

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