Penny stocks are back
Of all the trading manias in recent months — Bitcoin, SPACs, meme stocks, nonfungible tokens — the latest has a long history of fraud and scandal. That’s right, penny stocks are booming, according to The Times’s Matt Phillips, who visited the “low-rent district of Wall Street.”
There were 1.9 trillion transactions last month on the over-the-counter markets, where such stocks trade, according to the industry regulator Finra. That’s up more than 2,000 percent from a year earlier, driven in large part by the surge in retail trading — enabled by commission-free trading from online brokerages — that has also stoked the frenzy for shares in GameStop and other speculative assets.
Penny stocks have always lent themselves to quick fortunes, given that small inflows to these low-priced, thinly traded shares can make prices go berserk. That also makes them prone to fraud like pump and dumps, updated for the modern age with schemes hatched on social media. “It’s all just a pool filled with sharks,” said Urska Velikonja, a law professor at Georgetown. “It’s where the unwary go to get eaten.”
Penny-stock frenzies are common in raging bull markets. The current fervor among retail traders presents unnerving echoes from the past, according to Tyler Gellasch of the nonprofit Healthy Markets Association. Based on the scale of the recent mania, “the only relevant historical precedent seems to increasingly be the days before the Great Depression,” he said.
Take it from Jordan Belfort, of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” “Everyone wants to get rich,” Mr. Belfort, a former “boiler-room” operator who pleaded guilty to market manipulation, told Matt, “and they want to get rich quick.” He added that an element of naïveté underpinned such trading: “We all want to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and Bernie Madoff.”
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
The Fed keeps its policies steady. As expected, the central bank left interest rates at rock-bottom levels, despite improving economic growth forecasts. But the Upshot’s Neil Irwin notes that it may become harder for Jay Powell, the Fed chair, to wave away criticism of those who think monetary policy is too loose.
The I.R.S. delays the tax filing deadline. Americans have until May 17 to file their federal income taxes, a delay meant to help people cope with the pandemic’s economic upheaval and account for changes from the rescue plan.
Credit Suisse overhauls its business after the Greensill scandal. The Swiss bank will separate its asset-management division, replace its chief and suspend bonuses over the unit’s role in financing Greensill Capital, the supply-chain financing lender that collapsed this month.
Gasoline may have hit its peak. Global demand may never return to pre-pandemic levels, the International Energy Agency said, as more electric vehicles hit the roads and transportation habits change. Use may rise for a bit in places like China and India, but overall consumption in industrialized economies will fall by 2023.
Senate confirms President Biden’s top trade official. Katherine Tai will become the U.S. trade representative. She is a prominent critic of China’s trade practices, signaling that the White House won’t completely walk back the Trump administration’s tough stance. Top U.S. officials are to meet their Chinese counterparts for the first time today, at a summit meeting in Alaska.
Google is doubling down on office space
Google said today that it planned to invest $7 billion in offices and data centers in 19 U.S. states, making it the latest tech giant to expand its footprint while other companies retrench in a commercial real estate market roiled by the pandemic. Google’s C.E.O., Sundar Pichai, shared the plans in a blog post, saying that the move would create 10,000 jobs at the company this year. (Alphabet, Google’s parent company, employed around 135,000 people at the end of 2020.)