Archive for January, 2021

Plague diaries, Day 324

Sunday night.

A week ago today, I was sitting on my laptop, checking and double-checking and triple-checking Reddit’s math, trying to figure out if their claims about Gamestop were true – and finding over and over and over that they were. This past week changed my life. I shall forevermore celebrate the last week of every January with revelry, champagne, and song. (I bear no responsibility for the sanity of those poor bastards who don’t run escape that karaoke bar.) Confession time: sometime around April 2020 (must’ve been day 40 or 50 of this blog), I made a really dumb bet on an oil ETF, thinking it couldn’t possibly go any lower. Right after that, the oil futures hit a negative price for the first time in history (they literally had to pay people to take it from them), and I lost about 60% of my Roth IRA account. After last week’s YOLO maneuver, my retirement account not only recovered – it has exceeded its previous record high by about 56%. What a bizarre turnaround. (And hey, I never claimed to be wise.)

Like I said earlier, I no longer have any stake in Gamestop (“paper hands,” as redditors call it, as opposed to “diamond hands”) but I’ve got some Blackberry, which is currently down 30% due to Robinhood’s manipulation, so let’s see how that goes. I’m writing so much about the stock market lately because a) it’s a passion of mine, and b) for once, something new and interesting is happening with continuous new updates that disrupt from equally continuous new updates about the pandemic. This is a perfect distraction: enriching both mentally and materially. Heh. You know things are getting interesting when old friends and acquaintances (such as a guy who stayed at the same Costa Rican hostel as I four years ago) are reaching out for quick advice. (One of them even called me on my phone to get some quick input before the market opened on Friday.) I’m mildly insulted that that’s what got them to contact me, but mostly flattered.

The weather was mostly crappy this weekend: below freezing, and not at all sunny today. I stayed inside except for a quick walk to the local Tim Hortons. I’m originally from Siberia, and I can definitely handle cold weather, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it, eh. Give me some tropical weather any day of the week, and I’ll be a happy camper.

In the absence of any sort of light at the end of the tunnel (seriously, the best-case scenario is seven more months before I get vaccinated) and with no real-life human contact (pants are a distant memory; just a sweatshirt for webcam calls at work), I’m rehashing and reliving some vivid memories from before the plague. When I lived in Seattle, I’d occasionally take a Friday off and fly to Reno for a three-day anonymous adventure. Sometimes meeting an old friend for a meal. Usually just going to dirt-cheap (by Seattle’s standards) shows, amazing buffets, and hitting every blackjack table in sight. I usually broke even for the trip, but it was the anonymous, joyful, free experience of it all that made it worth it. I still remember the sensation of leaving the climate-controlled airport and experiencing that rush of hot desert air, even at 1am, and walking toward the vivid neon lights of downtown. (And yes, I know, that’s textbook male privilege, being able to walk alone at night through the empty streets of a sketchy city.)

Those three-day weekends were the most time I could take off work during those crazy, hurried years. I tried to make the most of that time in my old city. It was never enough, and it was just a low-key decadent bandaid, but for the time being, it worked. I have so many memories of Reno that I just can’t place: what year, what month, what season they took place. I honestly can’t tell if there were five or 15 of those trips. Almost certainly fewer than 25. Celebrating the end of this week, tonight, I tried to recreate a little bit of that magic. A $30 decadent meal because hey, what else is there to spend money on when you’re doomed to be single in the midst of a pandemic? White rice with mushrooms and salmon filet, cooked to perfection by my beloved instapot, and a cheap bottle of champagne. I’ll never not be fascinated by the dance of those bubbles, flowing ever upward… Gazing into that glass, I could be anywhere, anytime, and maybe if I look at it long enough, I’ll hear the dealer’s impatient question, “Hit or stand?” and turn toward the voice, and find myself once more in some casino, surrounded by random jolly strangers, anonymous and happy once again…

Someday. Someday.

Outside, a stranger’s coughing fit continues.

In lighter news, I keep discovering more content in Stardew Valley, and it’s a remarkably funny game that rewards you for the time you put in it, but I sense that I’ve finally uncovered almost all there is to find. My little farmer dude has a family (a wife and two creepy kids who never sleep), his farming routine consists of petting every animal once a day, and he finally saved up enough money to buy a magical staff to teleport home whenever he wants. I’m gonna have to find another distraction… The book “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab is off to a really good start so far. I had to force myself to finish Philip K. Dick’s “Penultimate Truth” earlier today (after trying to for a solid week) – the concept was interesting, but it was way too political.

Speaking of politics, the US is still screwing around. Biden’s big promise was that if Democrats won both of the senate races in Georgia on January 6th, there’d be $2,000 checks going out later the same month. Well, January will end in two hours, and those checks are still nowhere to be found. What’s worse is that they’re backpedaling: instead of a $2,000 check, it’ll be just a $1,400 check, since a $600 check got sent a month ago. That sort of fine print hadn’t been made explicitly clear, and that’s not a very good look, especially after multiple months with no stimulus at all. (Seriously, how is it that Canada took better care of its own people in 2020?)

In covid news, there was a rather disturbing precedent in Los Angeles. (California is west coast’s Florida.) Approximately 50 protestors blocked the entrance to the Dodger Stadium where mass vaccinations were supposed to take place. They got cleared after about an hour, and all the scheduled vaccinations took place, but none of them got charged, fined, or arrested. At what point is it okay to call them a death cult?.. I strongly suspect that the same crowd had been pro-Trump and heavily involved with Q-Anon. Both of those movements have recently collapsed, so it only makes sense that they’d use their rabid energy on something else – something like this. This particular news story is troubling because it really looks like a trial run. If just 50 people with way too much time on their hands managed to block the biggest vaccination site in Los Angeles for a whole hour and got away with no consequences, other groups nationwide and worldwide could end up doing copycat protests… If directly killing someone is a crime, and if holding an asthmatic person’s inhaler just out of their reach until they die is also a serious crime (I’m sure they’ll find something to prosecute you with), then wouldn’t it also be a serious crime to deliberately block high-risk people’s access to a life-saving vaccine in the midst of a lethal pandemic?..

This will be a wild year.

Congrats on making it through January, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 323

Saturday night.

Another day of absolutely nothing but gaming with a bit of Spanish and exercise. Yay life.

The Gamestop situation used to be as absurd as a South Park episode, but now it’s gotten even stranger. Some very passionate redditors are buying billboards on highways (apparently, they’re quite cheap) and, in one case, on Times Square, to promote Gamestop. More than that, one of them hired a plane to fly the “Suck my nuts Robinood” banner right above Robinhood’s headquarters. Heh. It really is amazing what people will do if they get sufficiently angry and get some cash to play with.

At the same time, there are some reports that Robinhood blocked access to account statements, which are required to transfer accounts someplace safer and better, like Fidelity. That is huge if true. The upcoming week should be very interesting: if this blatant criminality continues, at what point will the SEC intervene? Even in the best-case scenario, it’d take 3-5 business days to move your account to a new broker, and a lot can happen in that time. (More market manipulation, for instance.) And in non-best-case scenario, which we seem to have here, you can’t move your account at all.

My own broker, Ally, stopped locking people out of their accounts by means of a disabled login page, but it’s not showing accurate account balances. Still unclear if that’s the world’s most polite market manipulation or if their IT guy ragequit and destroyed all the servers behind him. (May the bridges you burn light your way.) I sold all my Gamestop three days ago, just before my beloved broker locked me out, and I currently have only a relatively small position in one of the other “meme stocks” as the media calls them. I’m very patient, so all of this is rather entertaining and not as stressful as it must be for millions of Robinhood users out there. This will be such an entertaining week… I wonder how many hedge funds will bite the dust when all of this is over.

In covid news, they’re reopening restaurants in California (specifically, in Los Angeles County) and later on in Alberta. Those two places don’t usually have much in common but I suspect the basic theme is the same: angry business owners lobbying their local politicians so as to not go bankrupt. Both Los Angeles and Alberta have been seeing a decline in new cases. Then again, I wonder how much of that decline is just due to the spike in holiday cases that’s finally going down. Meanwhile, the new and more contagious variants are spreading: there are sporadic reports of them being spotted in community transmissions here and there. If this goes the same way it did in England, it’ll get ugly, and the decision to reopen restaurants will look remarkably awful in retrospect. I really hope it works out for them, eh.

Enjoy your covid-free weekend, y’al.

Plague diaries, Day 322

Friday night.

Well, this week was exciting, if nothing else. The stock market shenanigans continue. Robinhood, the failed trading platform with 13 million users, has restricted its rules yet again: this morning, its users could buy only five shares each of in-demand stocks like Gamestop, AMC, or Blackberry. Later this afternoon, they changed it to just one per share per account. That is absolutely and utterly bonkers. It also looks like yesterday’s synchronized trading restrictions across multiple online platforms might have been due to their clearing company having severe issues with filling orders. Full details will come out later (and they’ll be delicious and fascinating) but here and now, it really looks like Robinhood had a severe cash crunch.

After Robinhood restricted stock purchase rules for over 10 million Americans, a lot of stocks absolutely crashed, since there were only sellers and no buyers aside from hedge funds and short-sellers. (So much for taking from the rich and giving to the poor, eh?) At this point, it looks like Robinhood has just given up on life: they’ve been hit with a class-action lawsuit, gotten threatened with congressional hearings, and united just about every celebrity and politician against themselves. There’s no way for them to dig themselves out of this hole, so they just keep digging deeper. Their previously planned IPO has already been cancelled, their users are starting to transfer their accounts to Fidelity, and it’s anyone’s guess whether Robinhood will even exist as an entity this time next week. What a truly meteoric self-immolation: they wasted years of scrappy-but-friendly reputation in a matter of days. What a week.

And meanwhile, my own broker, Ally, is still locking its own investors out of its site while refusing to say why. Their hotlines are jammed: people online report having to wait over two hours just to talk to an ineffective customer support rep. Their online chat is equally jammed. Their social media reps (all two of them, it seems) are pasting the same old boilerplate condolences and vague assurances that maybe, somehow, this will get fixed. Ally is a multi-billion-dollar company, they have millions of investors, and the one thing I don’t understand is whether they’re locking out all of their clients or only those who had traded in those over-shorted stocks. If I hadn’t managed to sell my Gamestop stock first thing Wednesday morning, I’d probably be on the verge of a heart attack right now. Their tactics seem similar to Robinhood’s, and I can only wonder if they’re facing a similar cash crunch. If it suddenly goes out of business, the money is insured, but it’ll take so long to get it back…

This pandemic is really quite illuminating. As people get more and more fed up, we get to see more blatant hypocrisies and giant flaws in the system exposed in broad daylight for all to see. We had Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer, though none of the cops who shot Brianna Denison went to prison, and none of the much-needed police reforms passed. We had a state-of-the-art epidemiology infrastructure in the US, as well as a perfectly adequate plan in case of a pandemic, but the CDC rolled over and played dead. It succumbed to opportunistic lying politicians (but I’m being redundant) instead of showing some backbone and refusing to back down – and thus squandered 74 years of hard-earned reputation. We had a fair and free election, but the outgoing president tried to overturn it to the point of organizing a mob to storm the Capitol. And now we have a lot of average people who found a very rare investment opportunity (seriously, why would they short 138% of Gamestop’s shares?..), made good money, and got punished for their impudence by having their accounts either locked up or functionally disabled, even as hedge funds could buy up their shares at criminally low prices.

For anyone who’s been paying attention over the past year, this really ought to destroy any and all faith in the system: there is no police accountability, no independent epidemiologists, a highly fragile political system, and an utterly, blatantly, comically corrupt financial system. There are far more surprises yet to come, I’m sure of it. I just wonder about the long-term side effects of all of this. I’ve always been a cynic, but how much more cynical will our population as a whole get?..

One minor upside amidst all this chaos: months ago, I’d reached out to the Ontario Volunteer Emergency Response Team (OVERT) to see if they were recruiting. I really, really miss my old Search&Rescue group back in Seattle, and want to help. OVERT replied and said they wouldn’t be recruiting in the foreseeable future. Just a few hours ago, I heard from them again: their recruitment season is back! It sounds like they skipped it entirely in 2020, and I’m really curious how they’ll do it this year (social distancing and all), but I’ve just signed up for their March 1st virtual orientation session. It’s still more than a month away, but it’s a tiny glimmer of hope in this otherwise remarkably shitty year.

Speaking of which… Covid news – the good news first: there’s data from two new vaccines – Novavax and Johnson&Johnson. They’re less efficient than the mRNA Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but they’re still good enough – and in J&J’s case, it’s just one dose. They’re not quite as effective against all the new variant strains, but it’s a start, eh. Also, Canada will finally, at long, long last, start travel restrictions. There’ll be no more flights to Mexico or the Caribbean (now that all the Canadian politicians got to enjoy their sunny vacations there), and international travelers will have to spend three days at a hotel, paid out of their own pocket, before their test clears, followed by two weeks of isolation which will be (allegedly) strictly enforced. That’s very nice, and better late than never, but did they have to wait this long?.. That’s a start, I suppose.

In bad covid news, Moderna is cutting (though not eliminating) its vaccine shipments to Canada, though Trudeau, acting as their volunteer spokesperson, reassured us all that all the ordered doses for this quarter will show up by the end of March. If they don’t, things will probably get pretty ugly. And in the worst covid news (do you see a trend here?), the EU has announced that they’ll institute vaccine export controls (they’re not calling this a ban yet) on vaccines manufactured in the EU, so mainly Pfizer, it seems. They’re prioritizing their own citizens first and foremost, in defiance of the established contracts other countries may have had. They’re also excluding the UK, which will make things a little uglier than they already are. For the time being, this is being floated as a temporary delay, with all the non-EU countries able to get their doses later on, once the EU is full and happy.

The implications here are pretty bad… A week or so ago, Pfizer cut Canada’s shipments and gave us an IOU note saying they’ll catch up later. Now Moderna is doing the same. And now the EU might cut everyone off altogether. And this is only January… Y’all, I just don’t think that the official vaccine rollout timeline is going to hold up now. Canada’s official plan was to start the phase 3 vaccination for everyone in August/September. With all these delays, and with the logistical bottlenecks on the local level, this might get pushed back into October/November. As always, I would be incredibly happy to be proven wrong. And if Canadians don’t even get to enjoy their summer, if the year+5 months of lockdowns turns into almost two years.. Things are liable to get very ugly indeed.

The only silver lining of this mushroom cloud is that the US might come to our rescue. Last year, Trump signed executive orders that put America first, essentially banning all exports of US-manufactured PPE supplies and vaccines. If Biden overturns that, and if the US finds a couple dozen million doses under its seat cushions, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll get outs before there are even more anti-lockdown riots than there already are. (Large mobs are storming random stores and shopping malls, maskless and loud and angry. The police mostly ignore them.)

Fun week… What I wouldn’t give for even a single normal, baseline, pre-pandemic month where you don’t have to worry about the stability of everything around you with each new news cycle.

Good night, y’all. Stay safe.

Plague diaries, Day 321

Thursday night.

I really hate it when I’m right. That means my worst, more cynical instincts were correct, and the reality matched my expectations, which had been low to begin with.

Today, Wall Street fought back. Just when Gamestop’s shares reached $500 in premarket trading, Robinhood, the popular fractional-share app-based trading platform, announced that they would freeze new orders on Gamestop and other over-shorted stocks that had been set to pop. One important distinction: they didn’t freeze all the trading on those stocks. They merely froze new orders. If you’d bought some of those stocks, you could only sell them: you couldn’t buy more. If you were a short-seller, you could buy and close out your position. In other words, the only new buyers were short-sellers. That was a highly efficient way to manipulate the market and drive the prices down.

Robinhood was joined by a couple of other online brokers. My own broker, Ally, decided to just stop letting people log in. Heh. That’s one way to do that, I suppose. Their social media people started out by apologizing for the delay and promising they’re working on it. They ended by posting this tweet, in which they blatantly admitted that their clearing firm, Apex Clearing, banned all new transactions on Gamestop – and didn’t deign to lift the ban until 3pm, at which point us peasants were finally allowed the mighty privilege of logging into our own investment accounts. (If you’re not a stock market person: it’s open only between 9:30am-4pm Eastern, Monday through Friday.) As far as I know, the only major online broker that didn’t sabotage its customers was Fidelity.

To quote a viral meme making rounds on Twitter, the market’s invisible hand was definitely very visible today. That was such blatant and arrogant manipulation… One of the online brokers’ VIPs said the quiet part out loud during a TV interview earlier today: he said they had to halt the trading to protect themselves. Ho hum. Some reports also claim that Robinhood had some liquidity issues and was presumably on the verge of collapsing if not for this intervention. They removed the block on trades toward the end of the day, and said they’ll allow limited trades tomorrow. How nice of them to treat their adult customers as if they were unreliable teenagers.

It’s very strange for me… I was into epidemiology most of my adult life (I’ve read almost every CDC memoir out there!) and I’m an avid investor. This week, everyone on social media has been talking exclusively about stocks, and a little bit about this pandemic we’re in. It’s so bizarre – it’s as if everyone is channeling my brain. I’ve stopped my recreational reading and gaming: I just can’t stop reading, and sharing, and commenting. Never before have I been so fully involved in the online zeitgeist.

There were repercussions, of course. Someone has already filed a class-action lawsuit against Robinhood. (Though whatever penalty they get, if any, won’t make a dent in the profits their partners made today.) A lot of politicians are saber-rattling, though some seem a bit confused and want to investigate common investors, and not the over-shorting situation that started this all, or the blatant collusion and market manipulation. More importantly, young people are very, very angry. This incident has shown them all just how rigged the game really is: play their game by their rules, and the moment you start winning, they’ll flip over the table. Long-term, I expect to see a lot of people abandon stock investing and move to other venues: precious metals, crypto-currency like Bitcoin, real estate, and who knows what else. What happened here, on January 28th, was unprecedentedly blatant: not the worst thing Wall Street has ever done – far from it – but the most blatant one. It will have giant ripples that will last for decades.

Toward the end of the day, all the stocks that had high activity levels earlier this week closed in the red, though they picked up in the afterhours. Tomorrow is Friday, when a lot of options contracts will expire. I’m very curious to see what strange new dirty tricks The Powers That Be will roll out tomorrow. If shares of those stocks end above certain critical price points, that will set off a giant short squeeze. VIPs would do anything to avoid that. Nasdaq’s CEO has already said that they’ll halt an entire stock’s trading if they see high levels of social media chatter. In a way, that gives them the license to manipulate the market any which way they want, provided they can point at some posts they didn’t like later on, if they feel like it. Might makes right, eh? Tomorrow will be ugly… I wouldn’t be surprised if the r/wallstreetbets community on Reddit got shut down completely due to all the external pressure from all the VIPs for whom they constitute an existential threat.

Nonetheless, it’s pretty funny that a prophecy came true: those crazy glorious bastards really did drive the price to $420.69. Today’s high point – though briefly – was $483. Not a bad run for a stock that was just $37 only one week ago.

In covid news, there is a disturbing new report from the UK’s Economist Intelligence Unit. (No, I’ve never heard of them either. Heh.) The report claims that after vaccinating all the critical population, Canada won’t achieve full mass vaccination until mid-2022. The report estimates that Canada will lag six months behind the US and Europe. Seeing as Canada has no leverage and no vaccine-manufacturing capacity, that’s certainly possible. One minor consolation: the EU would not be able to block the exports of Moderna’s vaccine, which is manufactured in Switzerland, which is not part of the EU. But Pfizer’s vaccine could definitely end up being held hostage because, once again, might is right – and there is no such thing as a fair game. Hopefully, that report is just a particularly disturbing exercise in creative non-fiction. Hopefully, the recent reports of just how few Pfizer doses Canada will get are wildly inaccurate. Hope everlasting…

Good night, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 320

Wednesday night.

An excerpt from a message I sent to my investing-related email group earlier today:
“This. Was. Epic. This was the revenge of Millennials on the industry that brought you the 2008 financial crash. This was the financial equivalent of the French revolution, with a mob of peasants decapitating their sovereign God-given ruler. This was as close to redistribution of wealth as we’ve seen in quite a while. This was the death knell of Melvin Capital, and any other hedge funds who were so greedy that they shorted 138% of outstanding shares. That was hubris. This was payback. This was karma. This was revenge.

I invested… not the plurality, but close to it of my portfolio. As of right now, my portfolio is up 153.4% from where I started in May. Full and fair disclosure: after 12 peaks with Amazon, my ability to hesitate has evaporated. I don’t jump at any risk in front of me, but if I do the math and find that the odds are in my favour, I will rush at that risk head-on whereas a baseline person would either back away slowly, or maybe just dip a toe instead of a significant chunk of their portfolio. I had fully prepared to lose the money I’d put into into GME on Monday.”

I sold my Gamestop stock as soon as the market opened today for $293, or a 276.1% gain. This is unreal. This still feels so very unreal. Each time I log into my online brokerage account, I have to laugh at the absurdity of the numbers staring me in the face. This is it. The endgame. I have won. Through the combination of intestinal fortitude, some sharp analysis, occasional recklessness, and plain dumb luck, I turned my life savings in May and turned them into an impressive amount that has exceeded my retirement goals. And my other stocks have yet to grow and fully reach their potential… (Granted, none will grow as fast as Gamestop, but it’ll still look mighty impressive in six months.) Of course, I still need to pay taxes, yada yada yada, but I’ll still have plenty left at the end.

Gamestop’s adventure will continue, but it will do so without me. Like I wrote earlier, I strongly suspect that there’ll be highly unethical shenanigans. Earlier today, just about every online broker suddenly claimed technical difficulties that kept people from buying GME (aka pushing up the price) for as long as several hours. Either the combined might of Reddit broke the Internet (which, to be fair, is not impossible) or The Powers That Be have decided to start playing dirty. Online and in the media, financial professionals and hedge fund people are either laughing and congratulating the Reddit folks, or utterly horrified and issuing empty threats of lawsuits, investigations, etc. That’s really exposing the existing hypocrisy: when large companies conspire to manipulate a stock price, that’s fine – but when 2 million people come together and go “oh wow, this stock is cheap and ridiculously oversold, let’s tell all our friends!” then that’s bad. Heh.

A lot of random everyday people on social media are seeing this hypocrisy, and learning about shorting, and especially naked shorting (which is not nearly as kinky as it sounds, alas), and realizing just how ridiculous the current system is. Some financial VIPs/pundits/talking heads have gone so far as to say that discussing stocks on social media should be illegal, or that the stock market needs to be frozen for a bit to allow major players to readjust their positions. That is every bit as ludicrous as it sounds. It looks like the main hedge fund behind the shorting effort, Melvin Capital, might go broke. It looks like a few other hedge funds might join it. If and when they decide to beg Congress for a bailout package, things will get especially interesting.

This is historic. This will inspire books, docu-series TV shows (like the ones Netflix and Hulu made about the ill-fated Fyre Festival), and of course a movie. I pledge to pre-order every single one of them. This really is an epic saga, eh. In the months to come, we’ll learn the hedge funds’ and major movers’ side of the story, and that will be really fun to read about. (Come on, there is no way every trading platform just spontaneously took a break.) GME traded between $249-$380 today, and is at $292 in the afterhours. I wish only the best of luck to all the crazy bastards who chose to remain on that train. The r/wallstreetbets community on Reddit has grown from 2 million to 3.9 million users in just the last 72 hours. That is utterly insane. A lot of these users seem to be suspiciously new, and prone to posting random things encouraging people to sell Gamestop and buy other stocks. Also, the community’s Discord channel (a sort of advanced chatroom) got allegedly sabotaged by outside provocateurs who wrote some really bad things in non-English font (so the auto-mods wouldn’t be able to spot and delete them), took screenshots of those posts, and sent them out. Like I said, an awful lot of dirty tricks…

Today was amazing and perfect, eh. I wish I could preserve it in amber and revisit and re-live it over and over whenever I chose. Okay, so one thing was less than perfect: I definitely shouldn’t have drunk an entire bottle of champagne. That was a definite overkill. (But a nap and two Tylenols took care of that.) I kinda wish they sold solo-sized half-bottles of champagne, but now that I actually wrote it down, I realize how goddamn sad that would be.

In far less epic but just as interesting developments, I’ve figured out how to make hardboiled eggs with my instapot! This is actually mildly interesting… Twelve years ago, it’d take me 45 minutes to make a dozen hardboiled eggs: 15 minutes each to boil the water, to let them simmer, and to cool them. Five years ago, I bought a fairly complicated kitchen gadget that would pressure-cook up to eight eggs at a time. That still required quite a bit of work, but took just 10 minutes or so. Now I can just throw them into my instapot, splash some water on top, et voila! – perfect hardboiled eggs just five minutes later. I’m very well aware that not everyone can afford a $100 Instapot (I certainly couldn’t when I was younger), and this is yet another clear and visible way in which pricey technology can make your life significantly faster and better. (Because hardboiled eggs are delicious, and everyone should have them daily.)

And finally, in covid news, this is pretty funny. Oklahoma is trying to get a $2 million refund for all the hydroxychloroquine they bought from the private sector back in April. At the time, that anti-malaria drug was being promoted as a miracle cure against covid, though that was later shown to be wrong. If you read the earliest entries in this blog series, you’ll see that I’d mentioned hydroxychloroquine on my Walmart shopping list, back when xgf and I were hiding out in the tiny town of Deep River. Like everyone else, we tried and failed to get our hands on it – it was yet another thing we could do to slightly boost our odds. Well, it looks like Oklahoma got carried away a bit. (Utah was the only other state to buy that drug from a private company.) In retrospect, it seems pretty funny, but it may have made sense to them at a time. Alas, there’s no malaria in Oklahoma (though who knows what global warming will bring), so that particular gamble didn’t pan out.

Good night, y’all, and join me in the worldwide celebration of Wall Street’s greed coming back to bite it.

Plague diaries, Day 319

Tuesday evening.

There are other worlds than this. In another world, nine days ago another version of myself didn’t get retrospective about my failure to take Tesla and Bitcoin seriously, and didn’t vow to try and take more risks in life. That version of myself never invested in Gamestop after seeing it on Friday evening. That version of myself is probably mighty depressed right now for not having jumped on that opportunity. In yet another world, a far more aggressive and risk-tolerant Grigory sold everything on Monday and put it all in Gamestop. That Grigory made a lot of money but he probably also speeds in school zones, gets in fistfights with strangers, and might not be the best influence. In this world, here and now, I sold a fairly large part of my portfolio on Monday morning and spent it on Gamestop to see what would happen next.

In this world, I might be able to triple my investment in only two days.

Today, short-sellers never managed to drive down Gamestop’s stock price, as more everyday investors and more VIPs bought in and spread the word. The stock price went from $80 to $150 in one day. And then, minutes after the trading hours ended, Elon Musk tweeted a single word: “Gamestonk!!” Musk is the richest person in the world and has 43 million Twitter followers. Right after he tweeted that, the afterhours price of Gamestop rose from $150 to $240 (no, this is not a typo) as his legion of fans rushed to buy.

This is the end. The hedge fund that had tried to short more shares than ever existed will be done for. As far as I can tell, all of the short-sellers will end up having to cover: they’ll have to buy those shares at any available price lest they lose even more than they already have. It’ll be frankly phenomenal, even more so than today’s 92.7% price increase prior to Musk’s tweet. I dislike Musk as a person and I mock his continuous attempts to reinvent subways that would include poor people. At the same time, I love his ideas for space exploration and SpaceX. And with that single tweet, with just one word, he helped a lot of amateur investors on Reddit make their dreams come true. My opinion of Musk will remain complicated, but it certainly improved today. In a just and rational world, no single person should have so much power, to wipe out billions of short-sellers’ holdings with a single word. However, this world of ours is neither rational nor just, so it’s all good.

If I had to guess, I’d say that the population of r/wallstreetbets consists mostly of Millennials and Zoomers: everyone between the ages of 18 through, say, late 30s. Our generation suffered greatly in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse. We got hit with constantly increasing college tuition prices. We entered adulthood only to be greeted by the worst unemployment levels since the Great Depression. We survived multiple “once in a lifetime” financial crises. (So that means we each get multiple lifetimes now, right? Heh.) And here we are. This is collective action. This is redistribution of wealth beating the elite at its own game by its own rules. This is the first of many strikes to come. This is revenge.

I can’t even imagine what will happen tomorrow… Perhaps this stock’s price really will hit the once-jokey goal of $420.69. Perhaps people will cash in their gains and it will slip back to merely $150 per share. Perhaps it will exceed $500 and get close to $1,000 by Friday, when options expire. Literally anything can happen now. Tomorrow, the funds I’d used to buy this stock will finally settle. As curious as I am to see just how much higher it can go, I’ll probably sell and take my gains: if this plays out the way I think it will, I will have made my annual salary (or more) in the space of just two days… There will almost certainly be some potential gains I’d end up leaving on the table, but no one can ever predict the zenith point. (Or the rock bottom, for that matter.)

I have this small and private ritual… Whenever I’m about to purchase some stock, I always say to myself out loud, “I accept the risk.” Whenever I’m about to sell, I say “I accept this profit.” This clear and verbal affirmation helps me put my mind at ease and commit to the decided course of action, much like you have to make peace with your subconscious and relax before you enter a hypnotic trance. The money I invested on Monday will likely triple when I sell tomorrow. It may quintuple, or octuple, or even more in the days to come – but I’ve done my part to help the momentum, and I’m not that greedy. If living in Nevada for 10 years taught me one thing, it’s that you haven’t fully won until you walk away from the table and cash in your chips. As one of my favourite quotes goes, “And never think about the past. No regrets, ever.”

In any case… In covid news, things are getting uglier in terms of the geopolitical vaccine situation. I wrote about Pfizer’s limited supply earlier. Now AstraZeneca is saying they won’t be able to deliver all the promised vaccines to the EU either. Obviously, no one is happy about this, but things are getting heated. Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn wants to stop vaccine exports from the EU to other countries until Europe gets its “fair share.” Right now, it is unclear how serious that proposal was, or how likely it is to succeed, but the very fact that it’s on the table is scary, and quite bad for international relations, now and later. It is an idea, and ideas can be dangerous, and contagious, and remarkably persistent. This will be one very ugly year, eh.

I hope y’all had a day that was at least 10% as awesome as mine was, and I hope you, unlike myself, will be able to get some decent sleep tonight. I’ll likely stay up late, reading, thinking, anticipating. Because in the end, I accept both the risk and the profit. Good night, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 318

Monday night, and I’m still a bit buzzed from an earlier solo celebration.

Today was… huge. Simply HUGE. If I were the kind of guy who wears a hat, I’d tip it to the fine madmen of r/wallstreetbets. What they’ve accomplished is difficult to adequately describe. Earlier today, Melvin Capital (the hedge fund that had shorted Gamestop) had to be bailed out with a $2.75 billion infusion. Not million – billion. With a B. That was the only way Melvin would’ve avoided a margin call due to its remarkably bad decision to overshort that stock. At one point earlier this year, 138% of Gamestop’s outstanding shares had been shorted. If that doesn’t quite make sense (138% being more than 100% existing shares), that’s just the sort of funny math that happens when greedy people get carried away.

Earlier today, the stock went all the way to $159 before dropping to $61 (more shorting) and ending the day at $76, with $88 in the afterhours trading. That is huge, y’all. Not only did it close up for the day, not only did it set off multiple trading halts due to sheer volume, but much more importantly – the army of Reddit managed to defeat a multi-billion hedge fund. There’s still a ton of VIPs shorting the hell out of this stock, and I can’t even imagine what will happen later this week.

I joined the party too. Last night, I analyzed the daily movement pattern to see around what time each day the concentrated shorting begins. (I am, after all, a financial analyst.) Earlier today, I liquidated some of my top-performing stocks (45% gain is a fine ride) and moved that money into Gamestop, timing it almost perfectly. For posterity’s sake, my average price was $77.90. And now we wait… The stock’s fundamentals, even aside from the short-squeezing potential, are quite good – and video games will become an even bigger industry later this decade. The talking heads on CNBC were absolutely losing it today, while Jim Cramer – ever the opportunist – jumped on the r/wallstreetbets bandwagon. Heh.

What I did today, jumping on that bandwagon, wasn’t very different from plain old gambling, but there are two caveats. First, I put only a small percentage of my portfolio toward this. And secondly, this is the first real excitement I’ve felt in many months… Amplified by the fact that a whole lot of other people my age, in my general situation (locked in and with nothing to do) are in the same boat and sharing the same messages of enthusiasm and “eat the rich” with one another on Reddit… That’s not a bad stand-in for a real-life community, eh. My money will settle on Wednesday, and I’ll be able to sell my stock (or hold it until Friday?..) at that point. There might be yet another celebratory bottle of champagne in my future.

I’m still trying to understand what sort of subconscious bias had led me to ignore the r/wallstreetbets community… I knew they existed – I just never bothered to look at what they were actually talking about. My exposure to them had consisted of memes and funny cherrypicked screenshots people shared on Twitter. Had I wanted to, it would’ve taken just 20 seconds to see what all the chatter was about. Then maybe I wouldn’t have missed that opportunity to get in at a cheaper price last week. Ahh well, no regrets. I’ll just have to make sure not to believe random hearsay and not to underestimate (or even worse, ignore) future communities I encounter, online or in reality. This cognitive glitch is something I hadn’t even been aware of, and I feel like it’ll save me a lot of trouble down the road. (And maybe get me even more opportunities, money-wise or not.)

In covid news, the pharmaceutical giant Merck stopped its development of two covid vaccines: they produced a weaker immune response than other vaccines did. The immune response was also weaker than in people who had beaten covid on their own. There goes that, I suppose. As far as I know, that’s the first big player that folded – the rest are still developing theirs. Dr Fauci said earlier that the Johnson&Johnson vaccine approval could be just a few weeks away… February will be an interesting month.

And now, off to enjoy the sweet victorious dreams in the aftermath of helping my 2 million new friends drive a hedge fund to the brink of collapse. Today was a good day. Good night, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 317

Sunday night.

Today was relatively fun: I finally drove out to the High Park that I’ve been hearing about ever since I moved to Toronto. (When it takes close to an hour each way to drive from the suburbs, parks aren’t a high priority.) It was a chilly 22F (-6C for all y’all fellow Canucks) and there wasn’t much to see in terms of nature, but it was nice. I think that was the most walking I’ve done since my big trip to see Ontario’s abandoned mines. Toronto’s High Park is a lot like New York City’s Central Park, so the place was jammed. (I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one with the bright idea to enjoy the outdoors when everything else is closed.) It was a nice workout for myself, for my car battery (gotta turn it on at least once a week), and a fun flashback to the pre-pandemic times when it took 10 minutes to find parking on adjacent streets.

I doubt I got any vitamin D through my exposed forehead, but hey – variety. Took some pictures with my good old DSLR but all the squirrels were too skittish to get a good shot. Looks like I finally have a good reason to install that zoom lens I got back in August… I’m curious how the park will change and blossom as the year goes on. I’ve never been much of a nature person, and the only time you’d catch me in a park was if I had to kill some time between meet-ups, so this is quite a huge change for me, eh.

Things are getting strange in the US: as per Washington Post, feds are debating whether or not to charge all the domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol just 18 days ago. It’s been less than three weeks but they’re sweeping it under the rug at a record-setting pace. The official reasoning is that they don’t want to overwhelm the court system. Unofficially, most of the domestic terrorists were white… If, say, Black Lives Matter had done the same thing, they would have been massacred on the spot, and the survivors would have been prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If this bizarre de facto amnesty really happens, that’ll be the best evidence that there are, indeed, two separate justice systems in the United States.

On a more positive note, I’m downright giddy to see what the Reddit army (all two million of the r/wallstreetbets folks) will do with the Gamestop stock tomorrow. As short squeezes go, this is pretty much unprecedented. If you’re reading this in the future, you have the benefit of foresight in this, as in everything else. Will the Powers That Be prevail and drive the stock price back down? Will it be more of a push-and-pull? How high up will it go during this last week of January, and in the months to come? This is pretty ridiculous, but there is a world where it might, in fact, hit the snarky $420.69 price target that the Reddit folks are after. (They’re smart; doesn’t mean they’re mature, eh.)

What’s happening with that stock is truly remarkable because it’s the fundamental shift in the generational balance of power: from Baby Boomers and their old money to the relatively broke Millennials and Zoomers, who don’t have the big media on their side but who do have the sheer numbers. In hindsight, something like that was inevitable: screw over an entire generation time and again, leave them no money or opportunities, but give them the Internet access – and they’ll find a way to get even. It’s the same way with Russian hackers: when you have just as much raw potential as your western counterparts but you have no money or opportunities (there’s no MIT in the former Soviet block) but you have Internet access and know how to code… Asymmetrical warfare becomes the only logical outlet.

There will be more events like this, more short squeezes on stocks where institutional traders had gotten too greedy with their short-selling. This is just another strange phenomenon to come out of this pandemic. (Incidentally, sea shanties with group singalongs on TikTok became huge earlier this month. That’s equal parts bizarre and amazing and beautiful. What other art forms will we resurrect before this is all over?..) And if the Powers That Be throw the book at those they identify as the ringleaders… well, that’ll be funny if they also let domestic terrorists go with a warning at the same time. Justice may be blind but she sure wiggles her eyebrows an awful lot.

In covid news, there are disturbing news stories coming out of Brazil and Mexico. Their respective official covid death tolls so far are 216,000 and 149,000. Brazil is only second to the US with its 419,000 covid deaths – and that’s before you account for excess deaths… It sounds like pure chaos over there. Both Brazil and Mexico are running low on oxygen tanks, that most basic component of a functional ICU. Their leadership failed them, just like in so many other countries. Their so-called leaders aren’t going anywhere, either, so things are liable to get worse before they get better.

Hang in there, y’all – this year may be a wash but next year… The roaring 20s will be back, eh.

Plague diaries, Day 316

Saturday night.

The 13-year-old me would’ve loved the way I spent the day: a weekly brunch of breakfast sandwiches+donut+coffee from Tim Hortons, followed by video games all day long, with a bit of reading, exercise, and Spanish lessons in between. The 34-year-old me is kind of tired of this all, but there aren’t many other options. I’ll try to venture for a long walk around the city tomorrow: it’s cold as hell out there, but weekend is also the only time I can spend more than 30 minuts in the sunlight. (The sunsets are still mighty early here, much earlier than the end of a typical workday.)

I was wrong earlier, by the way. Lockdowns don’t work – at least not in and of themselves. They’re only good if you want to hit the brakes fast (which will really wear down your brakes) while buying time to set up better infrastructure. (More testing sites, isolation facilities, etc.) We’ve got the lockdown part figured out, sort of, but there’s no follow-up from the government in terms of tangible improvements to keep the cases low. Last summer, the case count in Ontario dropped not quite to zero, but pretty close to it. (100-200 or so new cases per day?) And then it got out of control again. Having lockdowns without making improvements is like abstinence-only education: it’ll only work for a little while, if at all.

In covid news, there was a disaster in Boston. A cleaner accidentally unplugged a freezer at a pharmacy and ruined 1,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Right now, it looks like a bona fide accident. (Unlike the case with the mad pharmacist that deliberately sabotaged over 500 vaccine doses a few weeks ago.) It’s downright bizarre that the freezer at that pharmacy had such a flimsy plug: from what I understand, the plugs in hospitals are pretty much impossible to unplug by accident. This was probably something that could’ve been anticipated, but how do you fool-proof the universe?.. With luck, every pharmacy out there will post giant signs on all of their freezers to keep something like this from happening again. (And hopefully there won’t be any copycat saboteurs.) But here and now, that’s 1,900 high-risk people whose vaccination will get delayed. Will this single accident result in someone catching covid and dying because they didn’t get their shot in time?.. It’s impossible to say, but the cause-effect (negligent janitor – multiple deaths) is mighty disturbing.

I hope all y’all’s weekend is going fine, eh. (Still working on my fusion Texan-Canadian accent.)

Plague diaries, Day 315

Friday night.

Another week flew by, but that’s also one week closer to my goals. (Non-vaccination goals, that is.) After months of waiting, it’s almost here…

Yesterday, I was cataloging some of my successes at work to beef up my ever-growing (and at this point suspiciously large) promo document. (If you don’t catalog your own successes, no one will.) I came across something interesting… Just over two years ago, when I was still in Seattle, I uncovered a huge and ongoing fraud pattern that cost the company millions of dollars per year. I came up with a short and efficient SQL query to find the bad guys, gathered all the data to show what they were doing, and wrote a one-page document explaining everything and proposing the creation of a new department to deal with that sort of fraud. Nothing much happened at the time. Yesterday I found out that they took my proposal, hired six full-time employees to execute it, and saved $41 million USD just last year alone – and I didn’t get so much as a thank-you card… (All of that stemmed from one evening’s worth of research by yours truly, on my own time and dime.) Ho hum. If I could only get a 0.1% finder’s fee for all the value I delivered…

That’s partly why I’m currently doing my starfish impression in bed, with my laptop on my belly (which technically makes it a bellytop), playing some Stardew Valley and typing this up. That’s what a hero looks like in this pandemic – staying put and not partying on Friday nights. Heh.

In other news, if y’all aren’t following the r/wallstreetbets drama, aka The Army of Reddit (as some have called it), you’re missing out. They have two million subscribers who do stupid things with stocks. Recently, they joined forces to manipulate the price of Gamestop (GME) stock, which had been shorted to hell earlier. Short-sellers ended up losing a ton of money as they had to buy back at higher and higher prices. The stock went up by as much as 78% today, and finally closed up by 51%. It’s quite likely that it’ll keep going up next week as well. A lot of Millennials and Zoomers made a lot of money today.

This is huge not only because regular people – for once – screwed over a bunch of Wall Street traders, but also because it proves once and for all that the Efficient Market Theory is nonsense, and that the market can – and will be – manipulated. (But this time by us peasants.) I’m sorry to say I hadn’t taken that community seriously, but I plan to join them in their next raid against the rich. Join me, eh. Some of the bigwigs (such as Bill Clinton’s former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers) have already reacted with outrage, calling for some sort of regulation for Reddit. That’s pretty rich (no pun intended) since senators can get away with blatant insider trading without so much as a slap on the wrist, but a few million friends doing something together and in the open? Yeah, right, that definitely calls for reform and new laws. What a bunch of hypocrites.

In covid news, President Biden hit the ground running and signed a big pile of executive orders, many of which deal with covid. The big plan is to give out 100 million vaccine shots within the first 100 days. (Note that this doesn’t mean 100 million Americans will get fully vaccinated with two shots.) One of Biden’s orders makes masks mandatory in airports, on planes, ships, intercity buses, trains, and public transportation. That’s the most the federal government can do given the US government structure. The rest is up to individual states. It also looks like the Trump administration didn’t leave behind any vaccine rollout plan at all. That was to be expected by a cynic like myself but still – kind of horrifying, even compared to everything else we’ve all lived through.

Another week closer to getting our old lives back, so let’s focus on that, eh?