For those who haven’t heard, there’s a bit of a brouhaha brewing with the video game retailer GameStop, which is publicly traded. Much of Wall Street soured on the company, believing it to be the next Blockbuster or Radio Shack: a dinosaur from a bygone era that has no hope of succeeding in the increasingly internet-run future. As a result, a major Wall Street hedge fund worth billions decided to make a bet that the company’s already low stock price would just keep going lower.
The traditional way to make money in stocks was to find a company that was worth more than what its stock price indicated, purchase the stock at a bargain, and then make your money either through the company’s distribution of its profits back to its equity owners or the appreciation of its stock price. Buy low, sell high. But you can also make money betting on a company to eventually circle the toilet. This is called shorting.
To make money off a company that’s not making any, you “short” its stock by borrowing a share from an existing owner, immediately selling it and getting the cash proceeds from the sale, and then buying back the stock when its price dips and returning the share to the original owner. It sounds simple enough, but it’s also extremely risky.