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真正的“华尔街之狼”,对股市和比特币有些看法

真正的“华尔街之狼”,对股市和比特币有些看法

Shawn Tully 2021年03月22日
他对这个他曾经为之奋斗、一时成功、最终落入失败的行业的洞察,是透视这个小人物和他所看到的种种新风险的一个窗口。

作为风云一时的股票大亨,乔丹·贝尔福特曾经一度掌握了一种魔力,能够精准地让普罗大众对他推销的股票趋之若鹜。自称为“华尔街之狼”(根据他2011年的自传和2013年马丁·斯科塞斯执导的同名电影中的说法)的他是一名靠不正当手段发家的投机者,从小散户的身上骗走了2亿美元——这一骗局也让他在1999年入狱近两年。但此后的贝尔福特东山再起,摇身一变,成了汽车经销和度假租赁等公司的励志演讲家和顾问,并以自己可以一眼辨认出人群中哪些人能够达成交易、哪些人只是浑水摸鱼为荣。如今,谁可以比他更清楚在股市中浩浩荡荡的X世代(20世纪六七十年代生人)大笔抄底和网络经纪人扎堆推销背后,是赚是亏呢?

最近,我收到了贝尔福特公关团队的电子邮件轰炸,就“Reddit大战Robinhood”等问题发表了他的“专家意见”,于是趁机采访了这名改过自新的罪犯。这位近乎疯狂的证券奇才是将以Reddit为阵地的“散户逼空”现象视为股票市场早该实现的民主化,还是认为这只是与投资基本原理相悖的狂热?此外,我还想知道在他看来,激起散户热情的“零佣金”产品是会赚还是赔——毕竟他是“知道如何在交易中真正能够赚到钱的人”,他的观点还是有参考价值的。

事实上,我只完成了“订单返佣”(PFOF)的一部分——这是另外一位备受争议的投资大鳄伯尼·麦道夫留给世人的东西。但令人惊讶的是,正是开创了这项具有争议的系统的麦道夫,在“散户起义”中被推上了风口浪尖,并受到监管机构和美国国会的密切关注。庞氏骗局的“发明者”是第一个向中介经纪人付费,让他们把订单再转交给自己公司处理的庄家。

在此前的报道中,我曾经提到道格·阿特金——他是第一个电子股票交易平台极讯公司(Instinet)的前首席执行官——在美国证券交易委员会(SEC)位于华盛顿特区的办公室里与麦道夫产生的激烈冲突,争论这种做法应该被允许还是禁止。麦道夫吼道:“我只是想争取更多的生意!”他争辩道,为什么美国证券交易委员会要阻止他向经纪人提供他们想要的钱?阿特金则说:“如果对投资者如此有利,为什么你的经纪人要将其保密?”阿特金坚持认为这种做法会欺骗小投资者,应该被取缔。那“华尔街之狼”对伯尼想要以此缔造的商业帝国有何看法?

贝尔福特用最浓重的布朗克斯口音表达了他的看法——如果莱昂纳多·迪卡普里奥在2013年的热门电影中也模仿他的口音来演绎这位“华尔街之狼”,观众可能就需要字幕了。贝尔福特现在的言谈风格已然不像一名夸夸其谈的推销员,而是一位已经看穿一切的股市前辈,并且对如何解决华尔街的问题有着自己的看法,态度鲜明。

小散户们的危险

贝尔福特在长岛创立了臭名昭著的Stratton Oakmont公司,并和他的经纪人们谋划了一系列股票投机计划,将个体投资者们的家产吃干抹净。经纪人们会抛售低价股票,炒高其价值,等价格飞涨后收入自己囊中,然后在价格飙到顶峰后,将这些股票强卖给其他投资者。这种突然的大“抛售”通常可以把股票几乎卖空。但让贝尔福特感到惊讶的是,散户们联手在Reddit上推高了GameStop和AMC之类的股票,使他的老把戏翻出了新花样。他说:“他们正在集体推高这些股票的价格。但是他们没有‘抛售’。我认为不可能有那么多人能够同时购进股票,然后还可以在价格上涨时继续持有。在买空卖空的投机交易中,一旦投资者把价值推高了,他们就会抛售。但这在散户起义那里并没有发生。”

恰恰相反,Reddit的散户避开了传统的投资规则——甚至是常规的投机倒把。他说:“他们的动机并不坏,不像老式的操盘手。他们真的相信这时候卖出是一种背叛行为。这就是原因,这些股票对他们来说是一种‘情怀股票’。他们对GameStop有一种情感上的依恋,因为他们都记得小时候看过GameStop的视频游戏。”

他说,这次起义对华尔街而言,既是一股新势力,又是一股反对势力。贝尔福特指出:“这些小投资者对主流金融机构愤怒已久,并且希望重新夺回属于他们的金融领地。他们想表明自己也有发言权。比真金白银更重要的是要有是非观——因为当股票上涨时他们不会兑现。通常,当股票上涨时,人们会获利,从而产生抛售压力。我担心小投资者们不能永远持有这些股票。”他说,他们购买的许多股票都被高估了——投资新手对那些明明亏空严重的美国公司的忠诚度让他瞠目结舌,并且根据华尔街分析师的看法,股市寒冬又将卷土重来。

比特币的崛起

在贝尔福特看来,将让Reddit散户手中的宝贝股票暴跌的阴霾正在逼近。他说:“如果股价上涨太久,公司就会继续发行股票。”公司能够通过发行新股,或用溢价更高的股票来收购现有股票的方式达成这种交易。他注意到:“如果股票以400美元的价格出售,它的基本价值为200美元,则该公司有信托责任出售股票并套现。你不能指望股票永远上涨,而让股票下跌的往往正是发行新股。”

贝尔福特认为,最近美国人对比特币的痴迷,部分原因在于年轻投资者相信大规模的投资热潮可以让比特币这一“堕落天使”长时间保持高位。“人们被比特币宠坏了。”他说,“比特币的供应固定且有限,而至于股票,发行量可以是无限的。”贝尔福特表示,比特币更多是“纯粹的供需关系”,不会因为公司发行新股而扭曲。这种加密货币不会面临“股票之困”——即高价格往往会带来更多的供应,将飙升打成低迷。

贝尔福特承认,他曾经是比特币的看跌者,但他错了。他说:“2017年末,当比特币的价格达到1.9万美元时,我在一个电视节目上告诉观众,它会崩溃。当时我说的其实没有错,但我当时也认同比特币会永远消失这一看法。卖不出去,却很容易买进,所有这些都可以操纵。”贝尔福特当时的观点是,监管机构将禁止买卖比特币。“比特币看起来像是完美的洗钱工具。”他说,“我当时以为,瑞士和开曼群岛(均为避税天堂——编注)的比特币账户会暴露。我当时还认为,比特币一开始会站稳脚跟,紧接着被监管赶出市场。”

但其实,贝尔福特从一开始就喜欢比特币的“简明的设计”,使其成为一种不会因发行量增加而贬值的货币。他现在相信,由于致命的监管冲击还未到来,这种情况就将持续下去。“现在比特币的买家比以往任何时候都多。”贝尔福特说。他还认为,比特币的价格仍有很大的上涨空间,主要是因为它的固定供应相对股票而言具有优势:新投资者将继续推高价格,但能够让正处在上升期的股票缩水的“新股热潮”不会在比特币身上发生。他认为,比特币的价格将从目前的水平上涨80%,达到10万美元。

不要落入“自由”交易的陷阱

贝尔福特完全同意伯克希尔-哈撒韦公司(Berkshire Hathaway)的查理·芒格的观点,即散户投资者从出售订单流的、免佣金的在线经纪商处得到的待遇并不公平。经纪商们从线上散户处获取订单,然后交易交给Citadel Securities、Jane Street和Virtu等大型高频交易公司来执行处理。贝尔福特认为,与支付佣金相比,这种做法给客户带来的成本要高得多。经纪商们会自己根据此前的交易记录向做市商达成交易,以产生尽可能低的交易成本。他还怀疑,经纪商把订单卖给出价最高的买家。做市商支付给他们的钱越多,普通投资者的隐性成本就越高,而他们压根不知道这一点。

“这可以堪称最昂贵的‘自由贸易’。”贝尔福特说,“在这种所谓的‘自由交易’框架下,经纪商们宣传自己如何帮助‘小人物’,却转头与‘大人物’携手合作。这是对信任的一种背叛。”他说,做市商之所以愿意为订单流支付高价,是因为这给他们提供了一个了解市场走势的独家窗口。比如,当公司看到大量的特斯拉(Tesla)订单时,他们能够用自己的账户购买特斯拉的股票,在下一波订单到来之时,推高其给客户提供的价格。“订单流就是一切,告诉你市场的下一步走向。这相当于给了高频做市商一个‘预言’,让小投资者处于巨大的信息劣势。把所有的订单流了如指掌,能够向做市商提供公众所不知道的信息。”

贝尔福特坚持认为,小投资者不了解这种零佣金制度的真实成本。“他们只是单纯知道,不用付佣金了。但他们不明白,经纪商和做市商在交易中大肆得利。”他说。贝尔福特从个人经历说起:“在Stratton Oakmont,佣金从来都不是重点。我们曾经开玩笑说,佣金可以一直为零,因为我们几乎所有的钱都是通过交易‘价差’赚来的。我对股票的市场走向从来都是了然于胸,如今处理GameStop指令的高频交易员也是如此。”

贝尔福特指出,判断价格走势是交易员“捞钱”的两种方式之一,另外一种则是尽可能接近“买入价”买进股票,尽可能接近“卖出价”卖出股票,这样做市商就能够赚到很大的“价差”。假设XYZ股票的出价为50.00美元,要价为50.10美元。那就以50.00美元或接近这一价格买进,然后以尽可能接近50.10美元的价格卖出。中间地带的差价就是赚到的钱。”贝尔福特说。

在他给出的例子中,如果做市商以50.01美元的价格买入XYZ,以50.09美元的价格卖出,就会产生8美分的巨额差价。但是,如果这家公司通过寻找愿意多花一点钱的买家来“处理订单”,可以代表客户以50.05美元的价格买进,以50.06美元的价格卖出,那么卖家就能够多赚4美分,买家少花3美分,交易成本由8美分降为1美分。“交易员给出的定价取决于交易加价和较大价差的保持。”他说,“除非你是特蕾莎修女,否则你肯定会落入这一诱惑当中。”

贝尔福特说,总而言之,与支付佣金相比,普通投资者承担了更多的总成本,而经纪商们为他们自己争取到了最好的交易机会。“做市商不应该一边为订单流买单,一边执行散户交易。”他表示,“这对小投资者来说很危险。”

最后,贝尔福特指出,在新冠疫情爆发前,他一直在全球各地发表励志演讲,现在他希望可以尽快“返岗”。在过去的一年里,他主要从事在线咨询工作。“云技术让创业成本降低,变得更加容易。”他说,“我喜欢已经做得很好的公司,但也希望有更多扩张前景的公司。”

贝尔福特的网站上展示了对这位演讲者的诸多敬意。迪卡普里奥写道:“他赋予年轻企业家力量的能力,是雄心壮志、努力工作等种种变革性力量的光辉典范。”令人惊讶的是,贝尔福特很少为证券公司做咨询。但是,他对这个他曾经为之奋斗、一时成功、最终落入失败的行业的洞察,是透视这个小人物和他所看到的种种新风险的一个窗口。(财富中文网)

编译:陈聪聪、杨二一

作为风云一时的股票大亨,乔丹·贝尔福特曾经一度掌握了一种魔力,能够精准地让普罗大众对他推销的股票趋之若鹜。自称为“华尔街之狼”(根据他2011年的自传和2013年马丁·斯科塞斯执导的同名电影中的说法)的他是一名靠不正当手段发家的投机者,从小散户的身上骗走了2亿美元——这一骗局也让他在1999年入狱近两年。但此后的贝尔福特东山再起,摇身一变,成了汽车经销和度假租赁等公司的励志演讲家和顾问,并以自己可以一眼辨认出人群中哪些人能够达成交易、哪些人只是浑水摸鱼为荣。如今,谁可以比他更清楚在股市中浩浩荡荡的X世代(20世纪六七十年代生人)大笔抄底和网络经纪人扎堆推销背后,是赚是亏呢?

最近,我收到了贝尔福特公关团队的电子邮件轰炸,就“Reddit大战Robinhood”等问题发表了他的“专家意见”,于是趁机采访了这名改过自新的罪犯。这位近乎疯狂的证券奇才是将以Reddit为阵地的“散户逼空”现象视为股票市场早该实现的民主化,还是认为这只是与投资基本原理相悖的狂热?此外,我还想知道在他看来,激起散户热情的“零佣金”产品是会赚还是赔——毕竟他是“知道如何在交易中真正能够赚到钱的人”,他的观点还是有参考价值的。

事实上,我只完成了“订单返佣”(PFOF)的一部分——这是另外一位备受争议的投资大鳄伯尼·麦道夫留给世人的东西。但令人惊讶的是,正是开创了这项具有争议的系统的麦道夫,在“散户起义”中被推上了风口浪尖,并受到监管机构和美国国会的密切关注。庞氏骗局的“发明者”是第一个向中介经纪人付费,让他们把订单再转交给自己公司处理的庄家。

在此前的报道中,我曾经提到道格·阿特金——他是第一个电子股票交易平台极讯公司(Instinet)的前首席执行官——在美国证券交易委员会(SEC)位于华盛顿特区的办公室里与麦道夫产生的激烈冲突,争论这种做法应该被允许还是禁止。麦道夫吼道:“我只是想争取更多的生意!”他争辩道,为什么美国证券交易委员会要阻止他向经纪人提供他们想要的钱?阿特金则说:“如果对投资者如此有利,为什么你的经纪人要将其保密?”阿特金坚持认为这种做法会欺骗小投资者,应该被取缔。那“华尔街之狼”对伯尼想要以此缔造的商业帝国有何看法?

贝尔福特用最浓重的布朗克斯口音表达了他的看法——如果莱昂纳多·迪卡普里奥在2013年的热门电影中也模仿他的口音来演绎这位“华尔街之狼”,观众可能就需要字幕了。贝尔福特现在的言谈风格已然不像一名夸夸其谈的推销员,而是一位已经看穿一切的股市前辈,并且对如何解决华尔街的问题有着自己的看法,态度鲜明。

小散户们的危险

贝尔福特在长岛创立了臭名昭著的Stratton Oakmont公司,并和他的经纪人们谋划了一系列股票投机计划,将个体投资者们的家产吃干抹净。经纪人们会抛售低价股票,炒高其价值,等价格飞涨后收入自己囊中,然后在价格飙到顶峰后,将这些股票强卖给其他投资者。这种突然的大“抛售”通常可以把股票几乎卖空。但让贝尔福特感到惊讶的是,散户们联手在Reddit上推高了GameStop和AMC之类的股票,使他的老把戏翻出了新花样。他说:“他们正在集体推高这些股票的价格。但是他们没有‘抛售’。我认为不可能有那么多人能够同时购进股票,然后还可以在价格上涨时继续持有。在买空卖空的投机交易中,一旦投资者把价值推高了,他们就会抛售。但这在散户起义那里并没有发生。”

恰恰相反,Reddit的散户避开了传统的投资规则——甚至是常规的投机倒把。他说:“他们的动机并不坏,不像老式的操盘手。他们真的相信这时候卖出是一种背叛行为。这就是原因,这些股票对他们来说是一种‘情怀股票’。他们对GameStop有一种情感上的依恋,因为他们都记得小时候看过GameStop的视频游戏。”

他说,这次起义对华尔街而言,既是一股新势力,又是一股反对势力。贝尔福特指出:“这些小投资者对主流金融机构愤怒已久,并且希望重新夺回属于他们的金融领地。他们想表明自己也有发言权。比真金白银更重要的是要有是非观——因为当股票上涨时他们不会兑现。通常,当股票上涨时,人们会获利,从而产生抛售压力。我担心小投资者们不能永远持有这些股票。”他说,他们购买的许多股票都被高估了——投资新手对那些明明亏空严重的美国公司的忠诚度让他瞠目结舌,并且根据华尔街分析师的看法,股市寒冬又将卷土重来。

比特币的崛起

在贝尔福特看来,将让Reddit散户手中的宝贝股票暴跌的阴霾正在逼近。他说:“如果股价上涨太久,公司就会继续发行股票。”公司能够通过发行新股,或用溢价更高的股票来收购现有股票的方式达成这种交易。他注意到:“如果股票以400美元的价格出售,它的基本价值为200美元,则该公司有信托责任出售股票并套现。你不能指望股票永远上涨,而让股票下跌的往往正是发行新股。”

贝尔福特认为,最近美国人对比特币的痴迷,部分原因在于年轻投资者相信大规模的投资热潮可以让比特币这一“堕落天使”长时间保持高位。“人们被比特币宠坏了。”他说,“比特币的供应固定且有限,而至于股票,发行量可以是无限的。”贝尔福特表示,比特币更多是“纯粹的供需关系”,不会因为公司发行新股而扭曲。这种加密货币不会面临“股票之困”——即高价格往往会带来更多的供应,将飙升打成低迷。

贝尔福特承认,他曾经是比特币的看跌者,但他错了。他说:“2017年末,当比特币的价格达到1.9万美元时,我在一个电视节目上告诉观众,它会崩溃。当时我说的其实没有错,但我当时也认同比特币会永远消失这一看法。卖不出去,却很容易买进,所有这些都可以操纵。”贝尔福特当时的观点是,监管机构将禁止买卖比特币。“比特币看起来像是完美的洗钱工具。”他说,“我当时以为,瑞士和开曼群岛(均为避税天堂——编注)的比特币账户会暴露。我当时还认为,比特币一开始会站稳脚跟,紧接着被监管赶出市场。”

但其实,贝尔福特从一开始就喜欢比特币的“简明的设计”,使其成为一种不会因发行量增加而贬值的货币。他现在相信,由于致命的监管冲击还未到来,这种情况就将持续下去。“现在比特币的买家比以往任何时候都多。”贝尔福特说。他还认为,比特币的价格仍有很大的上涨空间,主要是因为它的固定供应相对股票而言具有优势:新投资者将继续推高价格,但能够让正处在上升期的股票缩水的“新股热潮”不会在比特币身上发生。他认为,比特币的价格将从目前的水平上涨80%,达到10万美元。

不要落入“自由”交易的陷阱

贝尔福特完全同意伯克希尔-哈撒韦公司(Berkshire Hathaway)的查理·芒格的观点,即散户投资者从出售订单流的、免佣金的在线经纪商处得到的待遇并不公平。经纪商们从线上散户处获取订单,然后交易交给Citadel Securities、Jane Street和Virtu等大型高频交易公司来执行处理。贝尔福特认为,与支付佣金相比,这种做法给客户带来的成本要高得多。经纪商们会自己根据此前的交易记录向做市商达成交易,以产生尽可能低的交易成本。他还怀疑,经纪商把订单卖给出价最高的买家。做市商支付给他们的钱越多,普通投资者的隐性成本就越高,而他们压根不知道这一点。

“这可以堪称最昂贵的‘自由贸易’。”贝尔福特说,“在这种所谓的‘自由交易’框架下,经纪商们宣传自己如何帮助‘小人物’,却转头与‘大人物’携手合作。这是对信任的一种背叛。”他说,做市商之所以愿意为订单流支付高价,是因为这给他们提供了一个了解市场走势的独家窗口。比如,当公司看到大量的特斯拉(Tesla)订单时,他们能够用自己的账户购买特斯拉的股票,在下一波订单到来之时,推高其给客户提供的价格。“订单流就是一切,告诉你市场的下一步走向。这相当于给了高频做市商一个‘预言’,让小投资者处于巨大的信息劣势。把所有的订单流了如指掌,能够向做市商提供公众所不知道的信息。”

贝尔福特坚持认为,小投资者不了解这种零佣金制度的真实成本。“他们只是单纯知道,不用付佣金了。但他们不明白,经纪商和做市商在交易中大肆得利。”他说。贝尔福特从个人经历说起:“在Stratton Oakmont,佣金从来都不是重点。我们曾经开玩笑说,佣金可以一直为零,因为我们几乎所有的钱都是通过交易‘价差’赚来的。我对股票的市场走向从来都是了然于胸,如今处理GameStop指令的高频交易员也是如此。”

贝尔福特指出,判断价格走势是交易员“捞钱”的两种方式之一,另外一种则是尽可能接近“买入价”买进股票,尽可能接近“卖出价”卖出股票,这样做市商就能够赚到很大的“价差”。假设XYZ股票的出价为50.00美元,要价为50.10美元。那就以50.00美元或接近这一价格买进,然后以尽可能接近50.10美元的价格卖出。中间地带的差价就是赚到的钱。”贝尔福特说。

在他给出的例子中,如果做市商以50.01美元的价格买入XYZ,以50.09美元的价格卖出,就会产生8美分的巨额差价。但是,如果这家公司通过寻找愿意多花一点钱的买家来“处理订单”,可以代表客户以50.05美元的价格买进,以50.06美元的价格卖出,那么卖家就能够多赚4美分,买家少花3美分,交易成本由8美分降为1美分。“交易员给出的定价取决于交易加价和较大价差的保持。”他说,“除非你是特蕾莎修女,否则你肯定会落入这一诱惑当中。”

贝尔福特说,总而言之,与支付佣金相比,普通投资者承担了更多的总成本,而经纪商们为他们自己争取到了最好的交易机会。“做市商不应该一边为订单流买单,一边执行散户交易。”他表示,“这对小投资者来说很危险。”

最后,贝尔福特指出,在新冠疫情爆发前,他一直在全球各地发表励志演讲,现在他希望可以尽快“返岗”。在过去的一年里,他主要从事在线咨询工作。“云技术让创业成本降低,变得更加容易。”他说,“我喜欢已经做得很好的公司,但也希望有更多扩张前景的公司。”

贝尔福特的网站上展示了对这位演讲者的诸多敬意。迪卡普里奥写道:“他赋予年轻企业家力量的能力,是雄心壮志、努力工作等种种变革性力量的光辉典范。”令人惊讶的是,贝尔福特很少为证券公司做咨询。但是,他对这个他曾经为之奋斗、一时成功、最终落入失败的行业的洞察,是透视这个小人物和他所看到的种种新风险的一个窗口。(财富中文网)

编译:陈聪聪、杨二一

Jordan Belfort always knew how to push the hot buttons that got regular folks to crave what he was selling—in the old days, as a maestro of penny stocks. The self-proclaimed “The Wolf of Wall Street” (from his 2011 book and the 2013 Martin Scorsese movie of the same name) was a boiler-room impresario. He fleeced small investors out of $200 million, a scam that in 1999 landed him in prison for nearly two years. But Belfort reinvented himself as a motivational speaker and consultant to the likes of car dealerships and vacation rental outfits, and he takes pride in being able to discern the real deal from the crowd-pleasers and con jobs. Who better than Belfort to opine on whether hordes of Gen Xers teaming to buy beaten-down stocks and online brokers selling order flow are good or bad for the little guy?

When I recently received a blast email from a PR firm representing Belfort, offering his "expert opinion" on such issues as "Reddit vs. Robinhood," I leaped at the opportunity to interview the reformed huckster. Does this past master of starting crazes see the Reddit phenomenon as a long-overdue democratization of the stock market, or a frenzy detached from the fundamentals of investing? I also wanted to get his view—as someone who knows how the money is really made in trading—on whether the “zero-commissions” offering that rallied the retail crowd is a boon or a rip-off.

After all, I'd just done a piece on PFOF (payment for order flow) detailing the legacy of another flimflammer, Bernie Madoff. Amazingly, it was Madoff who launched the controversial system that the Reddit revolution brought front and center for regulators and Congress: payment for order flow. The future Ponzi schemer was the first market maker to pay brokers for routing their orders to his firm for processing.

In that story, I relate that Doug Atkin, former CEO of Instinet, the first electronic equity trading platform, got into a screaming match with Madoff in the SEC's Washington, D.C. offices over whether the practice should be allowed or barred. Madoff bellowed, "I'm just trying to get more business!" Why should the SEC stop me from giving brokers the cash they want, he argued. Atkin riposted, "If it's so great for investors, why are your brokers keeping it a secret?" Atkin maintained, and still believes, that the practice bilks small investors and should be outlawed. What does the Wolf think of the edifice crooked Bernie helped build?

Belfort delivered his ideas in the thickest of thick Bronx accents. If Leonardo DiCaprio, his portrayer, had tried to imitate Belfort's patois in the 2013 hit The Wolf of Wall Street, he might have needed subtitles. Belfort now talks less like a flamboyant promoter than a former trader who's seen it all and harbors strong views on how to fix what's gone wrong on Wall Street.

Dangerous for small investors

At Stratton Oakmont, the notorious Long Island boiler room he founded, Belfort and his brokers robbed mom-and-pop clients by orchestrating "pump and dump" schemes. Brokers would tout penny stocks to inflate their value, buying for their own account as prices soared, then foisting the shares on their investors at the peak. That big, sudden "dump" often sent stocks to near zero. Belfort is amazed that the folks joining hands to boost such names as GameStop and AMC on Reddit are turning the practice on its head. "They're collectively pumping up these stocks," he says. "But there's no ‘dump.’ I didn't think it was possible to get that many people to buy a stock effectively together, then keep holding it when the price goes way up. In pump and dump, once investors raise the value, they dump. That's not happening."

Instead, he says, the Reddit crowd eschews the traditional rules of investing—even the regular course of pump and dump. "Their motivations aren't evil, as in old-fashioned manipulation," he says. "They really believe that selling is betraying the cause. And it is a cause. It's ‘story stocks’ on steroids. They have an emotional attachment to GameStop because they remember watching its video games as kids."

The crusade, he says, is both new to Wall Street and anti–Wall Street. "These small investors are seething with anger at mainstream financial institutions and want to get back at them," says Belfort. "They want to show that they have a voice too. It's more about being right than the actual money, because they don't cash out when the stocks go up. Usually, when a stock goes up, people take profits, creating selling pressure. My fear is that the little guy can't hold these stocks up forever." Many of the stocks they're buying, he says, are greatly overvalued. He's mystified by young investors' loyalty to American names that are heavily shorted and, according to Wall Street analysts, harbor the poorest prospects of a comeback.

Bitcoin’s rise

For Belfort, the shock that will send the Reddit crowd's pet stocks tumbling is looming dilution. "If a stock stays up too long, the company keeps printing shares," he says. That gambit can take the form of new offerings or using an overpriced stock to overpay for acquisitions. "If a stock is selling at $400, and its underlying value is $200, the company has a fiduciary responsibility to sell shares and put cash in its coffers," he observes. "You can't pump up a stock forever, and often what sends it down is issuing all those new shares."

America's new infatuation with Bitcoin, Belfort reckons, is partly to blame for the young investors' apparent belief that a mass rush can keep fallen angels elevated for a long time. "People are spoiled by Bitcoin," he says. "Bitcoin has a fixed, finite supply. With stocks, you have an infinite number of shares that can be issued." Bitcoin, he says, is more about "pure supply and demand," free from the distortion of effectively printing more of your own corporate currency. The flagship cryptocurrency doesn't have the equities' problem that high prices tend to bring on more supply, turning the surge into a swoon.

Belfort admits to being a super bear in Bitcoin in the past, and to being wrong. "When it was hitting $19,000 in late 2017, I was on a TV show, and I told the audience that it would crash," he says. "I was right then, but I also thought Bitcoin would go away forever. It was hard to sell and easy to buy, all the things that make for manipulation." His view was that regulators would nix the coins. "Bitcoin looked like the perfect storm for money laundering," he says. "I thought that Bitcoin accounts in Switzerland and the Caymans would be exposed. I thought Bitcoin would initially take hold, then be regulated out of business."

From the start, however, Belfort liked Bitcoin for "its elegant design" as a currency whose value couldn't be eroded by issuing more of it. He now believes it's here to stay since a fatal regulatory onslaught hasn't happened. "Bitcoin now has a much bigger base of buyers than ever before," he says. Its price has plenty of room to run, says Belfort, principally because its fixed supply provides an advantage over stocks: New investors will keep pumping the price, but the rush of new shares that deflates a soaring stock can't happen. He sees the flagship cryptocurrency rising 80% from current levels to $100,000.

Don’t fall for “free” trades

Belfort agrees wholeheartedly with Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway that retail investors get a raw deal from commission-free online brokers that sell their order flow. The practice consists of brokers' getting orders online from retail clients, and handing the trades to giant high-frequency trading houses such as Citadel Securities, Jane Street, and Virtu to execute the trades. Belfort insists that the practice is costing customers a lot more than if they paid commissions, and the brokers themselves paid market makers according to their records in generating the lowest possible trading costs. Instead, he suspects that the brokers are selling their orders to the highest bidders, and that the more a market maker pays them, the higher the hidden cost to the Main Street investors. Only the little guy doesn't see it.

"It's the most expensive 'free trade' you can have," says Belfort. "I saw a a marketing demo from one of the big 'free trades' players advertising how they were 'helping the little guy,' and they're hand in hand with the big guys. It was like a betrayal of trust." He says that market makers pay so much for order flow because it gives them an exclusive window into where the market is moving. When firms see tons of orders coming in for Tesla, they can purchase shares for their own account, pushing up the EV-maker's prices for their clients when the next flood of orders arrives. "Order flow is everything," he says. "It tells you where the market is going next. It gives the high-frequency market makers a crystal ball and puts the small investor at a big information disadvantage. Seeing all that order flow gives a market maker information that the public doesn't have."

He insists that small investors don't understand the true costs of the commission-free regime. "They think it's all about not paying commissions, but they don't understand that the brokers and market makers are killing it on trading," he says. Belfort speaks from personal experience. "At Stratton Oakmont, it was never about commissions. We used to joke that commissions kept the lights on. We made almost all our money on the trading 'spreads.' There was never a time when I didn't know where the market in our stocks was going. It's the same with the high-frequency traders today handling GameStop orders."

Gauging the direction of prices is one of two ways traders clean up, he noted. The other is buying shares as close as possible to the "bid," and selling as close as possible to the "ask," so that the market maker pockets a big "spread." "Say XYZ stock has a bid of $50.00 and an ask of $50.10. The game is to buy at $50.00 or close to it, and sell as close to $50.10 as possible. The money is made in that middle ground," says Belfort.

In his example, if the market maker buys XYZ at $50.01 and sells at $50.09, it makes a fat, 8¢ spread. But if the firm "worked the order" by seeking buyers willing to pay a bit more, it could purchase for on behalf of its client at $50.05, and sell at $50.06. The seller gets 4¢ more, the buyer gets 3¢ off, and the trade costs the little guy just 1¢ instead of 8¢. "Traders' compensation depends on marking up trades and keeping wide spreads," he says. "You'd have to be Mother Teresa not to fall for that temptation."

All told, says Belfort, Main Street investors is shouldering more in total costs than if they paid commissions, and the brokers got them the best possible deal on trades. "Market makers shouldn't be paying for order flow and executing retail trades at the same time," he says. "That's dangerous for small investors."

In closing, Belfort said that he'd been circling the globe giving motivational speeches before the COVID lockdown hit and hopes to get back on the road soon. For the past year, he's been working mainly as an online consultant. "The cloud has made it so much easier to start a business cheaply," he declares. "I like companies already doing well, but also want to scale rapidly."

Belfort's website displays a tribute from the performer who immortalized him. "His ability to empower young entrepreneurs is a shining example of the transformative powers of ambition and hard work," writes DiCaprio. Surprisingly, Belfort seldom consults for securities firms. But his insight into the business where he hustled, thrived, and crashed is a primer in recognizing the new and lingering dangers facing the little guy.

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