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Wild Ride

Stock market volatility part of rapidly changing financial landscape.

The American stock market is experiencing its most interesting quarter in a long time, perhaps since the meltdown of the housing market that kicked off the global Great Recession. At the beginning of 2021, certain American hedge funds (investment vehicles for wealthy clients) had “shorted” stock shares of the video game retailer GameStop and a few other struggling corporations. This means that the hedge funds had borrowed the stock and sold it, expecting the price of the stock to fall significantly – whereupon they could repurchase and return the stock at the lower price and enjoy a tidy profit. But their strategy, a time-honoured one, did not factor in the awesome power of the internet.

Or, more specifically, of a Reddit forum dubbed WallStreetBets (WSB), known for its profanity and aggressive trading. The members of WSB counterattacked by purchasing GameStop stock at a furious pace, driving up share prices to ludicrous levels (at one point, GameStop stock had risen 1,200 percent from the time WSB got involved). Hedge funds lost billions as they were forced to repurchase the stock at prices far greater than the proceeds they had earned from selling it in the first place.

Backlash

By the end of January, things were getting so out of hand that RobinHood, a popular online broker favored by millions of small-time investors, placed restrictions on trading GameStop and other similar stocks. This move drew wrath from RobinHood clients, as well as from politicians across the political spectrum for supposedly protecting the wealthy at the expense of ordinary people. Indeed, numerous commentators are framing the saga in terms of “David vs Goliath” or class warfare, with some writers comparing this financial insurrection with the Occupy Wall Street movement that emerged in the wake of the Great Recession. Others speak of the “democratization” of the stock market, as powerful investors like hedge funds may no longer have the ability to move markets to their will – by causing a particular stock to decline in value simply by shorting it, for example. Market analysts throughout the world are taking note of the rapidly changing financial landscape, which will very likely not remain within American borders. In a February 4 piece for CTV News, Adam Kovac noted that there is no fundamental reason why a GameStop-style episode could not occur on the Canadian stock exchange. In fact, in mid-to-late January Canadian investors more than tripled the price of the struggling Blackberry Ltd on the Toronto exchange.

Powerful tools

For Christians who follow the financial world, these events provide first-class entertainment but are not easily processed in a specifically biblical manner. On the one hand, if the stock market really is a “casino for the rich,” as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren put it, then Christians might welcome greater access to wealth for a greater number of people. On the other hand, the socioeconomic class that Scripture is most interested in – the poor – are unsurprisingly the group least represented in financial markets. The GameStop war is mostly between the rich and the middle, not the rich and the poor. In general, the stock market is a powerful tool capable of accomplishing a great deal of good, but it’s hard to dispute that much of the wealth invested in it could be better spent on projects benefiting local communities, especially poorer ones.

Christians should also resist the urge to invest too much emotional energy into class divisions. God is indeed especially concerned for the poor (Mt 11:5), but the gospel of Christ is for everyone – and his Church is an institution that crosses all boundaries, including socioeconomic ones. A believer’s primary interest is always in reconciliation, not victory.

  • David is an associate pastor and office manager living in St. Louis, MO with his wife and daughter. He holds a bachelor’s in economics and is interested in the intersection between Christian faith and economic forces.

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