Look to China—and to history—to understand the new wave of small investors
THERE IS NOTHING new on Wall Street. Speculation is as old as the hills. So says the protagonist of “Reminiscences of a Stock Operator”, published in 1923. Quite so—but you can count on some new variations. Take the case of Nikola Corporation, which makes trucks powered by green energy. On June 8th its stock price doubled. It was then worth more than Ford. Yet it has sold no vehicles. “Sympathetic magic”, explains a seasoned investor. Nikola is named after Nikola Tesla; as is Tesla, the leading electric-vehicles firm. That is enough of a buy signal.
华尔街上无新事，投机活动由来已久——1923年出版的《股票作手回忆录》（Reminiscences of a Stock Operator）的主人公如是说。说得没错，不过你一定可以看到一些新的变体。看看生产绿色能源卡车的尼古拉公司（Nikola Corporation）。6月8日它的股价翻了一番，市值比福特还高。但它却一辆车都还没卖出去过。一位投资老手解释说，这叫“交感巫术”。尼古拉这个名字取自尼古拉·特斯拉（Nikola Tesla）——电动汽车巨头特斯拉的名字也是从这里来的。这足够成为一个买进的信号了。
Enough, that is, for a new army of retail speculators, which is blamed for a lot of strange moves in stock prices. Since March, no-cost brokerages that cater to small investors report a dramatic surge in new accounts and trading volumes. A noisy gaggle of social-media and chat-room pundits has emerged. David Portnoy, a sports-betting media-mogul reinvented as “Davey Day Trader” is perhaps the most prominent. The retail army has marched into America’s evergreen tech stocks. Less predictably they are also keen buyers of grounded airlines, of beached cruise liners and, strangest of all, of Hertz, a car-rental firm that has filed for bankruptcy.
Some of this recalls the era of Jesse Livermore, whose exploits are fictionalised in “Reminiscences”, with its bucket shops, tipsters and crazy buying of A.O.T. (Any Old Thing). There are strong parallels with the day traders and chat-room herds of America’s dotcom mania in the late 1990s. But you don’t have to go back even that far. A lot of the archetypes are found more recently in China.
有些情景让人想起杰西·利弗莫尔（Jesse Livermore）的时代：对赌行、内幕贩子、疯狂买进A.O.T.（Any Old Thing，任何旧东西）。《股票作手回忆录》以半虚构的方式记述了利弗莫尔的投机传奇。你也很容易想到上世纪90年代末美国互联网热潮时期的日间交易员和拥挤的聊天室。但你甚至都不用追溯到那么远。在更近期的中国就能找到很多原型。
There are striking resemblances between America in 2020 and China’s stockmarket fever of 2015. The economy was in a tough spot. The real returns on bank deposits were negative. There were plenty of liquid funds to lubricate trading. Brokers and shadow banks were lending freely to retail speculators. The retail wave in America differs in the sources of economic trouble and liquidity. Much of the money going into new trading accounts is from government transfers to workers idled by covid-19. With free time, free money and free trading—plus no sports—why not take a punt on the markets?
Rumour, connections (real or imagined) and tips have always played a big role in determining what stocks retail speculators buy. In Livermore’s day, every bucket-shop punter kept his ear open for a tip to get aboard Burlington or Northern Pacific. What has changed is the speed at which tips spread and so how synchronised retail buying has become. The result is a rapid succession of fads: first tech darlings; then bombed-out stocks; then something else. This rotation of investment themes is a recurring pattern in China’s market, says Adam Levinson of Graticule, a Singapore-based asset-manager.
As noisy as Mr Portnoy and his ilk are, they have been almost drowned out by the tut-tutting of jowly investors. The pros are shocked—shocked, they tell you—to find that there is gambling going on. Much of their ire is directed at the million-plus users of r/wallstreetbets, a Reddit forum where frat-boy argot is mixed with trading jargon. Its devotees are not the type to buy a stock based on a model of discounted cash flows. Instead they favour buying call options. A certain kind of call option—deeply out-of-the-money and close to expiry—is much like buying a lottery ticket or making a long-odds sports bet. They can pay off spectacularly for a relatively small outlay if the stock price suddenly surges. And, like bucket-shop bets, they are self-expiring.
Put aside the harrumphing for a moment. There is something to cheer in all this. Academics have puzzled over why more people do not participate in the stockmarket. The literature suggests peers have an influence. A paper in 2002 by Esther Duflo and Emmanuel Saez, for instance, finds that the pension choices of university librarians were swayed by their colleagues. That does not mean there is nothing to worry about. Outside of their pension plans, even experienced retail investors have a habit of over-trading—to the detriment of returns. The tendency to churn portfolios is higher in men than women. It is linked to over-confidence and thrill-seeking.
先把震惊放一边。这里头也有值得高兴的地方。学术界过去一直想不明白为什么没有更多人参与股市。文献表明周围的人会产生影响。例如，埃斯特·迪弗洛（Esther Duflo）和伊曼纽尔·塞斯（Emmanuel Saez）在2002年的一篇论文中指出，大学图书馆员对养老金的选择会受到同事的影响。但也不是说就没什么可担心的。撇开养老金计划不说，即使是经验丰富的散户投资者也有过度交易的习惯，以致损害了收益。男性比女性更可能频繁地对投资组合做大改动，这和过度自信和寻求刺激有关。
The Stock Operator knew the type. There is a higher grade of speculator, he said, who knows enough to avoid the trading mistakes beginners make. This kind loves to buy on stock declines and to quote wise-sounding aphorisms. The bucket shops and brokerages love him. For it is this sort of speculator, the “semi-sucker”, that keeps them in business.