Some companies that sell silver said there would be delays in fulfilling orders because they were facing unusually high demand.
Credit…Michael Dalder/Reuters

The frantic price swings last week in stocks like GameStop and AMC Entertainment, led by retail traders aiming to take on Wall Street, have spread to a new target: silver. The price of the precious metal jumped 10 percent on Monday to the highest in eight years after online calls to create a “silver squeeze.”

The attraction to silver came as the S&P 500 index appeared poised to open higher, following gains on European and Asian stock markets.

Retail websites for buying silver coins and bars said they were experiencing unprecedented demand and there would be delays in shipping orders. Moneymetals.com, a dealer in precious metals, said it wasn’t taking any new silver orders until midmorning Monday and put some restrictions on gold purchases as well. The iShares Silver Trust, a large BlackRock exchange-traded product tracking the metal, reported record net inflows on Friday of $944 million.

Shares in companies that mine for silver surged higher too. Fresnillo rose 19 percent and Polymetal International was up 7 percent, the two biggest gainers on the FTSE 100 index in Britain.

But the silver market is fundamentally different than that of beleaguered companies like AMC and GameStop.

The company stocks that caught the attention of the army of day traders over the past week, spurred on by memes on Reddit, had been unloved by hedge funds. By driving the price of these stocks higher, the traders “squeezed” the firms holding short positions.

Melvin Capital Management, one of the hedge funds that bet GameStop shares would fall, lost 53 percent on its portfolio in January, a person familiar with the matter said. Short sellers lose money when a company’s shares rise, and the losses are potentially limitless.

Silver prices had already been rising before the recent interest, and some users on Reddit have warned against a “silver squeeze,” saying it would benefit the same hedge funds and investors they toppled last week. Also, silver is a much bigger and deeper market, making it harder to influence.

The price of silver climbed nearly 50 percent last year, and some institutional investors expected it to outperform gold this year. Still, the traders, who appear to be mostly small investors focused only on a handful of stocks and assets, have emerged as a new risk factor for the large firms betting against stocks and regulators concerned about the smooth functioning of markets.

  • Futures indicated indexes on Wall Street would open higher on Monday. The S&P 500 index was set to gain nearly 1 percent, after it lost more than 3 percent last week — its worst week since late October.

  • GameStop’s shares rose about 7 percent in premarket trading, having gained 400 percent last week and over 1,600 percent in January. Another target of the trading frenzy, AMC, rose 25 percent in premarket trading and was one of the most traded shares. It gained about 280 percent last week.

  • Most European stock indexes were higher in midday trading. The Stoxx Europe 600 gained 1 percent, led by industrial and technology stocks.

  • Asos, the online fashion retailer, bought Topshop, Miss Selfridge and other brands from Arcadia Group, once the crown jewel of Britain’s high street retailers, for 295 million pounds ($404 million). Asos shares rose 3.6 percent.

Unlike the fraud or manipulation that regulators like Gary Gensler are used to pursuing, the GameStop frenzy involves investors who have publicly acknowledged the risks they are taking
Credit…Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

The recent surge in GameStop’s stock — propelled by individual investors who banded together on Reddit — has put new pressure on the Biden administration’s pick for the top job at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler.

Mr. Gensler would inherit the agency as it faces calls to more tightly regulate online trading programs such as Robinhood that critics say enable unsophisticated investors to make risky financial bets, Deborah B. Solomon reports in The New York Times. But defenders of such platforms say they help flatten out inequities in the financial markets that have long favored deep-pocketed firms over average people. The S.E.C. said it was “closely monitoring” the situation in a statement.

“What’s going on with GameStop has almost nothing to do with GameStop as a company,” said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America. “When you see the markets essentially turned into a video game or turned into a casino, that actually has some pretty serious repercussions for the way we use the markets to fund our economy.”

The question for Mr. Gensler, and the agency, will be what, if anything, they should do about concerns from people like Ms. Roper.

The S.E.C.’s role has traditionally been to ensure that companies disclose enough information for people to make informed investment decisions. But it does so by enforcing laws that were written before the advent of trading platforms such as Robinhood. Mr. Gensler’s first moves, those who know him say, will be investigating the GameStop surge to figure out who benefited, as there is speculation that it may have been fueled by some big funds after all.

Melvin Capital was a main player in the stock market drama over the video game retailer GameStop.
Credit…Nick Zieminski/Reuters

Melvin Capital Management, one of the hedge funds pilloried on social media message boards for its short-selling bets that GameStop shares would fall, lost 53 percent on its portfolio in January, a person familiar with the matter said.

A principal reason was the huge losses the firm suffered when small investors bid up the stock of GameStop. The Wall Street Journal first reported the amount of Melvin Capital’s loss.

Founded by Gabe Plotkin, a protégé of the hedge fund billionaire and New York Mets owner Steven A. Cohen, Melvin Capital had $8 billion in assets under management at the end of January. That amount included $2.75 billion that Mr. Cohen’s fund, Point72, and Citadel, another hedge fund, put into Melvin Capital, as well as fresh capital from new investors, the person said.

Hedge fund returns at Citadel fell 3 percent for the month, about a third of which was caused by a $2 billion investment it made in Melvin about a week ago, according two people briefed on Citadel’s results.

Melvin Capital exited its position in GameStop after having to raise additional funds, Mr. Plotkin confirmed to CNBC last week. The firm was a main player in the market drama set off by a group of day traders who have been bidding up a handful of stocks that Wall Street had given up on — forcing losses on big hedge funds.

The traders appear to be mostly small investors focused on a handful of stocks like GameStop and AMC Entertainment. But they have emerged as a new risk factor for large firms that had bet against those companies with what are known as short sales. While the financial damage on Wall Street appears so far limited to a number of firms, the volatility shook the broader market. The S&P 500 fell 1.9 percent on Friday, finishing its worst week in three months.

Google has come under increasing scrutiny for its dominance in the digital ad market.
Credit…Elijah Nouvelage/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The owner of The Charleston Gazette-Mail and other West Virginia news publications filed a lawsuit in federal court on Friday against Google and Facebook, accusing the companies of profiting from “anticompetitive and monopolistic practices” that have damaged the newspaper business.

The publisher, HD Media, said the lawsuit was the first of its kind to be filed by a newspaper company. The suit is focused on the centrality of Google to the online advertising market, as well as an agreement between Google and Facebook that is the center of an antitrust lawsuit brought by 10 state attorneys general. It is estimated the two tech companies together accounted for more than half of all digital advertising spending in 2019.

“Google and Facebook have monopolized the digital advertising market, thereby strangling a primary source of revenue for newspapers across the country,” HD Media said in the suit, filed in U.S. District Court of the Southern District of West Virginia.

“There is no longer a competitive market in which newspapers can fairly compete for online advertising revenue,” the suit continued.

The rise of digital media has led to sharp drops in revenue for many newspaper companies, which once depended on print ads and print subscriptions to stay in business. More than one in four American newspapers shut down between 2004 and 2018, and tens of thousands of newsroom jobs have disappeared.

In addition to The Gazette-Mail, which in 2018 won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, papers owned by HD Media include The Herald-Dispatch and The Logan Banner.

“We invite every other newspaper in America to join this cause,” Doug Reynolds, the managing partner of HD Media, said in a statement on Friday. “We are fighting not only for the future of the press but also the preservation of our democracy.”

Tech companies have come under new scrutiny in recent months. In October, the Justice Department filed suit against Google, accusing the company of illegally protecting its monopoly over internet search and the digital advertising market. In two lawsuits filed in December, dozens of states accused Google of abusing its dominance of the online ad business and thwarting competitors in search.

Last month, the lyric-annotation company Genius Media and two left-wing magazines, The Nation and The Progressive, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google — as well as its parent company, Alphabet, and a sibling company, YouTube — citing what the suit called “anticompetitive conduct” in the digital ad market.

Google referred a request for comment to a statement the company issued this month in response to a separate complaint. In the statement, the company said its ad business “helps websites and apps make money and fund high-quality content.” Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment.



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