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S.E.C. Chair Gensler Emphasizes Transparency in Markets

Gary Gensler is putting transparency in the markets and the need to understand the impact of new technology at the top of his priority list as the new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“I think transparency is at the heart of efficient markets,” Mr. Gensler said during his first testimony on Capitol Hill as the nation’s top securities cop.

Mr. Gensler, speaking from his living room, appeared by video before the House Committee on Financial Services to discuss the S.E.C.’s response to the tumultuous trading in shares of GameStop in January. The massive run-up in the stock price of the video game retailer was fueled by small investors who bought its shares on Robinhood and other commission-free trading apps and banded together on social media to cause big losses for a hedge fund that had bet GameStop shares would fall. Some investors who bought shares of GameStop at the peak later lost money.

Mr. Gensler said the S.E.C.’s staff has been working on a report addressing the issues raised by the episode that will be released this summer. He also said new rules may be needed for brokerage apps that turn stock trading into a game or contest, a method called gamification.

the collapse of Archegos Capital Management, which caused more than $10 billion in losses for Wall Street banks, pushed regulators to consider whether traders should be required to disclose derivatives — the financial trading instruments that allowed Archegos to take massive positions in stocks without attracting attention. Archegos’s losses were mostly attributed to the firm investing heavily in total return swaps, a type of highly leveraged derivative that can give a trader exposure to a stock without actual ownership.

Mr. Gensler’s tenure got off to a rocky start after Alex Oh, his pick to serve as director of enforcement, had to resign just days after being named because Paul, Weiss, the big law firm she had worked for, was facing potential sanctions in a case in which she was heavily involved.

The hearing with Mr. Gensler was the third and final one focusing on GameStop and the frenetic trading in the markets held by the House Financial Services Committee. The first hearing on Feb. 18 was held when shares of GameStop were trading around $40 a share after falling from a high of $347 a share. Since then, the stock has soared again, rising nearly 300 percent to $160 a share.

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Meme Stocks and Archegos: Fed Calls Out Financial Weak Spots

The Federal Reserve warned about financial stability risks emanating from frothy stocks and debt-laden hedge fund bets in its twice-annual report on potential vulnerabilities in the system, pointing to the rise of so-called meme stocks as one sign that risk-taking could be getting out of hand.

The central bank’s Financial Stability Report, released Thursday, followed an unusual six months for markets. Over that period, stocks climbed steadily as the U.S. economic outlook rebounded, and stories of excess began to crop up.

Internet discussion boards helped fuel interest in stocks such as GameStop, a cryptocurrency created as a joke has run up in value, and a little-known hedge fund melted down, stories that have captured headlines and caused many — including, evidently, some at the Fed — to ask whether the financial system was headed for problems.

“Vulnerabilities associated with elevated risk appetite are rising,” Lael Brainard, a Fed governor, said in a statement accompanying the Fed’s release. Stock prices are high compared with earnings, and “the appetite for risk has increased broadly, as the ‘meme stock’ episode demonstrated.”

Archegos Capital Management, spilled back to hurt banks. The fund had amassed big, leveraged stock bets that went bad and ended up costing banks it had done business with.

“While broader market spillovers appeared limited, the episode highlights the potential for material distress” at financial companies that aren’t banks “to affect the broader financial system,” the Fed said in its report. It said hedge fund opacity had also raised questions during the meme stock episode: Some funds that were betting against the stocks in question took losses as chat board vigilantes poured into them.

The answer to both episodes, the Fed and Ms. Brainard seemed to suggest, starts with better data.

“The Archegos event illustrates the limited visibility into hedge fund exposures and serves as a reminder that available measures of hedge fund leverage may not be capturing important risks,” Ms. Brainard said. She added that the episode “underscores the importance of more granular, higher-frequency disclosures.”

And while bubbles ranked high on the list of concerns, fundamental economic risks that could disrupt financial markets also persisted, based on the Fed’s assessment.

The coronavirus pandemic, which is coming under control in the United States but continues to rage across large portions of the world, poses continued risks to the system, it said.

“Despite substantial progress with vaccinations, perceived risks associated with the course of the pandemic and its effects on the U.S. and foreign economies remain relatively high,” the report said. “A worsening of the global pandemic could stress the financial system in emerging markets and some European countries.”

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How Small Market Investors Are Being Wooed by Companies

That has prompted a strategy adjustment. In addition to spending time communicating with analysts whose “buy” or “sell” ratings on the stock can move its price, Mr. Schreiber said, he has made a point of doing interviews on podcasts, websites and YouTube programs popular with retail investors.

“I think that they are, today, far more influential on, and command far more following in terms of stock buying or selling power than the mighty Goldman Sachs does,” Mr. Schreiber said. “And we’ve seen that in our own stock.”

Academic research suggests that over the longer term, it can be a competitive advantage for a company to have a patient base of investors who understand and believe in its strategy. Such a steady foundation makes it possible for executives to focus on longer-term strategic goals, rather than meeting the short-term metrics often dictated by Wall Street analysts, said Mr. Cunningham of George Washington University Law School.

Take Amazon. Its share price kept rising over the years, despite its skimpy and unpredictable profits and widespread skepticism from Wall Street. The individual shareholders who held Amazon stock bought into the vision of the founder, Jeff Bezos, and saw no problem with Amazon recycling its enormous cash flows back into the company rather than paying dividends. Many of those shareholders are now rich; someone who bought $1,000 worth of Amazon shares at the start of 2000 would be sitting on more than $4.3 million today.

Shares of Tesla, too, have exploded in recent years — a victory for its base of cultish followers, who believed in the company’s prospects despite years of losses. Over the past five years, Tesla shares have gained more than 1,300 percent, creating $640 billion in market wealth.

While some companies are pursuing the loyalty of small shareholders, others are pursuing their money. Several companies whose stocks climbed during January’s “meme stock” boom have taken advantage of the demand to issue new shares, turning trading enthusiasm into actual cash for the company. (Previously issued shares that are bought and sold in the open market don’t generate any new money for companies themselves.)

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GameStop says it is considering selling additional shares.

Shares of GameStop — the struggling retailer at the heart of the trading frenzy that captured the country’s imagination in January — tumbled in after-hours trading on Tuesday as quarterly earnings missed expectations and the company said in a filing it could sell additional shares.

The company’s stock was down roughly 12 percent shortly after 6 p.m. The shares had remained steady amid a brief conference call in which executives presented the company’s results and declined to take questions.

But the stock began to slide after the company said in a separate filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it was evaluating whether to sell additional stock “primarily to fund the acceleration of our future transformation initiatives.”

Such a share sale would reduce the value of the company’s outstanding stock, essentially by increasing the supply, in a process called dilution.

a battleground between a throng of individual traders loosely organized on Reddit and sophisticated hedge funds that had bet aggressively that the shares of the largely brick-and-mortar retailer were doomed to fall.

For a brief moment in late January, the Reddit traders got the upper hand, setting off a so-called short squeeze that sent the share price up more than 1,700 percent in mere weeks. The stock subsequently tumbled, losing nearly all its gains, only the resume its climb late last month. At the close of trading on Tuesday it remained up a remarkable 865 percent this year.

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