Skip to main content
About HEC About HEC Faculty & Research Faculty & Research Master’s programs Master’s programs MBA Programs MBA Programs PhD Program PhD Program Executive Education Executive Education Summer School Summer School HEC Online HEC Online About HEC Overview Overview Who
We Are Who
We Are
Egalité des chances Egalité des chances HEC Talents HEC Talents International International Campus
Life Campus
Sustainability Sustainability Diversity
& Inclusion Diversity
& Inclusion
Stories Stories The HEC
Foundation The HEC
Coronavirus Coronavirus
Faculty & Research Overview Overview Faculty Directory Faculty Directory Departments Departments Centers Centers Chairs Chairs Knowledge@HEC Knowledge@HEC Master’s programs Master in
Management Master in
Programs Master's
Double Degree
Programs Double Degree
Programs Summer
students Exchange
Life Student
MBA Programs MBA MBA Executive MBA Executive MBA TRIUM EMBA TRIUM EMBA PhD Program Overview Overview HEC Difference HEC Difference Program details Program details Research areas Research areas HEC Community HEC Community Placement Placement Job Market Job Market Admissions Admissions Financing Financing Executive Education Executive Masters Executive Masters Executive Certificates Executive Certificates Executive short programs Executive short programs Online Online Companies Companies Executive MBA Executive MBA Infinity Pass Infinity Pass Summer School Youth Programs Youth Programs Summer programs Summer programs HEC Online Overview Overview Degree Program Degree Program Executive certificates Executive certificates MOOCs MOOCs Summer Programs Summer Programs Youth programs Youth programs


GameStop: Hedge Funds vs Amateur Traders?

Published on:
5 minutes

Is the GameStop Affair a collective action revolting against major hedge funds, or is it just another form of speculation by amateur investors also aiming to become rich? In the course of one week, GameStop’s stock value had catapulted to an impressive 1600% rise from its previous value. This situation had Wall Street trembling, and had hedge funds and individual investors at attention. As GameStop’s stock value continues to fluctuate towards a lower price, its initial steep climb up raises questions on stock market behavior, the actions of hedge fund investors, and the trading technique of short selling. HEC Paris professor of Finance Johan Hombert explains the mechanics behind the GameStop affair and Robinhood trading application.


Source: Wikipedia

Listen to the podcast



What are the mechanics behind this affair with GameStop? 

The story has often been presented as amateur traders taking a revenge on Wall Street hedge funds. This view has some superficial element of truth, but I believe that it is fundamentally misleading.

First, let’s explain the part where amateur traders take a revenge on hedge funds. GameStop is a brick-and-mortar video game retailer, which hedge funds deemed was over-valued. A number of hedge funds started to short-sell GameStop. To short-sell a stock, hedge funds borrow the stock, sell it in the market, and expect to buy it back later at a lower price, and therefore make a profit.

Now come amateur traders on Robinhood. Robinhood is an online trading app. Amateur traders on Robinhood coordinated an attack on the short-sellers. They bought massively GameStop’s stocks to push up the price. This generates losses for short-sellers and leads short-sellers to close their short positions, which means buying the stock. By buying the stock, the short-sellers not only lost money, they also further increased the price and contributed to increasing their own losses.

On this part, it is true that amateur traders played a clever trick to the short sellers. This trick is called a “short squeeze”.

It is also true that a few amateur traders, those who started the short squeeze by buying GameStop when the price was low and sold it when it was high, made money.

But many individual traders also lost money. In particular those who bought when the stock price was already very high, thinking they could make quick and easy money at the expense of hedge funds. When the price eventually crashed, because every bubble eventually crashes, people who bought at the peak of the stock price lost a lot of money. Learn more on my blog post, What is happening with GameStop.

So what lesson can be learned from this story? 

The main lesson is that it is naïve to believe that amateur traders can beat hedge funds at their own game. Hedge funds have a lot of resources and brain power, and better access to information than retail traders. Retail traders really stand no chance.


The main lesson is that it is naïve to believe that amateur traders can beat hedge funds at their own game.


My colleague at HEC Paris, Finance Professor Jean-Noël Barrot, studied the performance of individual traders in France. He shows that they lose money on average. He also shows that more experienced traders perform a little bit better, but even they lose money, they just lose less money than the less experienced traders.


hedge fund podcast - HEC social media card


In fact, the very business model of trading apps like Robinhood relies on the fact that amateur traders lose money in the stock market. Robinhood does not charge any fee to its customers. It makes money by selling to hedge funds the right to trade with its customers. This practice is called “payment for order flow”.


The very business model of trading apps like Robinhood relies on the fact that amateur traders lose money in the stock market.


The fact that payment for order flow is a profitable business is very telling: why are hedge funds willing to pay to be allowed to trade with individual traders?

The answer is obvious: it is because individual traders always lose at the expense of hedge funds.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Investing in the stock market is a good idea for long-term investment. For instance, it is a good idea to invest a fraction of retirement savings in the stock market, and it is good practice to buy a diversified portfolio such as a low cost, broad-market Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). 


Investing in the stock market is a good idea for long-term investment.


However, day trading and stock picking is a money-losing activity, unless you think you can outsmart other traders. But you have to keep in mind two things. First, not everyone is smarter than average, and second, even fewer people are smarter than hedge funds when it comes to trading.


Interview conducted for the podcast Knowledge@HEC with Professor Johan Hombert. Learn more on Professor Hombert's "Financial Markets Blog".

Related content on Finance


How Inclusive Corporate Culture Matters in the #MeToo Era

By Crystal (yanting) Shi

European Central Bank at Frankfurt


Implicit Guarantees in the Onset of the Euro Area Countries’ Debt Crisis

By Eric Mengus

Social Innovation
Addressing the "S" Demands of ESG - Editorial
Eloic Peyrache - HEC
Eloïc Peyrache
Professor, Dean
Thinking Deglobalization
Guillaume Vuillemey - news vignette- HEC Paris
Guillaume Vuillemey
Associate Professor
business people scrutinizing a document in a meeting room_vignette

Do Employee Shareholders Care about their Employers' ESG Performance?

By Maxime Bonelli, François Derrien

Subscribe button for Knowledhe@HEC newsletter

Newsletter knowledge

A monthly brief in your email box and 3 issues of the book per year.

follow us

Insights @HECParis School of #Management

Follow Us

Support Research

Our articles are produced thanks to our reader's support