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When Dylan McDowell bought stock in GameStop a few weeks ago, it was just a joke.

“I literally bought GameStop for the laughs,” said McDowell, who lives in Bozeman. “Then it just shot to the moon.”

McDowell was one of thousands of people who bought GameStop shares in recent weeks after hundreds of posters on a forum, or “subreddit,” on the website Reddit urged others to buy the stock, which a number of hedge funds had bet against.

The hedge funds were shorting the stock, meaning they were borrowing shares from other shareholders and selling them with the assumption that the stock would decrease in value. But that meme-filled subreddit, r/wallstreetbets, rallied around the stock of the video game store, causing its value to skyrocket.

GameStop stock had been low for a long time. But in part because of r/wallstreetbets, the stock saw a 1,784% gain during January, according to the Washington Post. Hedge fund managers who bet the stock would fall lost millions, politicians issued statements, trading apps limited what retail buyers could and could not do, and Redditors continued to make memes about “stonks,” a purposeful misspelling of the word “stocks.”

And while some who bought into GameStop shares were undoubtedly day traders who make a living off of buying and selling stocks, many were everyday retail investors who got the idea from the subreddit.

“I think that’s the part of the story that a lot of people are missing, is that most of what that subreddit is is people just being silly and having fun,” McDowell said. “I would just get on there and laugh my ass off to what people were posting.”

McDowell, who is self-employed, said he bought three shares of GameStop when shares cost about $50. He also bought 69 shares of Nokia and sold them later in the same day for a small profit. Nokia, along with Blackberry and AMC Entertainment Holdings, are other companies r/wallstreetbets posters have urged others to buy, though none have blown up as spectacularly as GameStop.

Will Opie, who has lived in Bozeman for about a decade and works in IT, also bought stock in GameStop midweek last week after he saw it blowing up on r/wallstreetbets. He’s followed that subreddit for about three years, he said.

“I actually didn’t hold onto GameStop for very long. I sold it probably within an hour, and I got 20% gains,” Opie said. “I definitely wish I would’ve held on. If I would’ve stayed until Thursday or Friday, I probably would have doubled my money.”

He also bought stock in AMC and Nokia, and hasn’t sold those yet.

Some users on r/wallstreetbets and other related online forums have urged people who have GameStop stock not to sell, as a way to continue to make hedge funds betting against GameStop pay up. Opie said he understands where those people are coming from, but that he doesn’t know how realistic that sentiment is, especially when cash is on the line.

“It’ll be interesting to see how many of those people genuinely hold if there’s a real drop, if it goes back down to below $100 (per share),” he said. “I think if we see a couple of really big drops, people will start to sell … but if they don’t, more power to them.”

Alan Kloosterhof, an analyst for a local business, has lived in Bozeman since 2002. He also bought into GameStop last week, buying two shares as the prices were increasing. He sold one of them and recouped the cash he spent, and is holding on to the other, waiting to see what happens.

“I’m just letting the second one kind of ride to see what happens,” Kloosterhof said.

He’s not on r/wallstreetbets, though he does follow a few other stocks-related subreddits.

“The Reddit crowd seems to get painted as this mindless horde, which I can sort of understand … but I think there’s a little more nuance to it than that,” Kloosterhof said. “There’s still plenty of people making their own decisions, or playing it a little more conservatively.”

This story has been edited to correct a misspelling.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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