Jordan Belfort, the infamous stockbroker who inspired the hit 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is hosting a new documentary for the Discovery+ streaming service about the wild rise and fall of GameStop’s stock.
Discovery took notice when Belfort weighed in as the GameStop saga unfolded, telling news outlets that the “little guy” can “play the same game” as the Wall Street overlords. He also posted a video to YouTube in which he reenacted a scene from Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated “Wolf of Wall Street,” which was based on his 2007 memoir of the same name.
Belfort recently sat down with The Post to chat about the meme stocks, how the Reddit rally took hold and what investors should do now.
New York Post: You tweeted out that video that was very similar to “The Wolf of Wall Street” speech, and seemed to be urging the WallStreetBets guys to hold onto their investments. How would you compare the Reddit crowd to the traders at your old firm, Stratton Oakmont?
Jordan Belfort: So that, that video was a joke. That was meant to be a funny thing. And just to be clear, I never invested in GameStop because I figured if I put a video like that out, I was investing, people might say I’m trying to do something. The comparisons are interesting between what happened at Stratton because in some respects when I first saw the whole thing going on, I thought, oh, it’s like a pump and dump, right? I mean, it seemed pretty obvious to me like when it first started. But when I started to dig more into it, [I saw] they’re not dumping. There’s no dump on the pump. It’s an oddity in the sense that there’s this really strong emotional attachment to the stock and they’re really ultra long-term players, and for many of them, it’s not even about making money as much as making a point. I think they want to make money as well. But it’s a very interesting thing. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
NYP: Why are hedge funds in a panic right now?
JB: Panic is not the right word as much as, like scratching their heads maybe. Some of them were probably panicking at the time that they were on the wrong side of it. It’s because there’s a certain set of rules, like how stocks act. One of the most basic rules of all is that fundamentals do eventually matter. At any given time, stocks can be much higher or lower and, like a Warren Buffet would use that as an opportunity. It is value investing. This is diametrically opposed to value investing. Now, this is sort of like momentum investing, but there are rules to that, too, and the rules to that are when the stock flies up, that it has to come back down because people are going to start to bail.
When your Uber driver is telling you he’s investing in GameStop and your haircutter, you think OK, it’s been out there for too long and it’s almost over. But with this particular paradigm, it’s a bit different because these people are really not selling. There’s an emotional attachment and the nervousness is that there’s an unfamiliarity. What are the rules of this game now? That’s the concern that the bigger firms probably have now with this sort of stuff.
NYP: At the time you painted the rally as a revolution, but what are the dangers for amateur investors?
JB: My message to everyone was — good for you, but be careful. I’ve always said history would say this is probably not going to end well. A stock that has a book value of, pick a number, $10 a share and is trading at 20 times that with no reason why other than emotion, it probably is not going to end well. I think that if you’re playing in this game, it’s more like gambling than investing and you need to be really, really careful. There’s so much spoiled from watching things like Bitcoin go up so they have this false sense of security, that things can go up and if they go back down, they’ll always go back up again. But Bitcoin is not a stock. It’s a very different animal. And what drives Bitcoin up and what keeps it up and makes it come back has nothing to do with stocks. I guess my biggest concern would be that if everyone thinks this is just the easiest way to get rich, freaking everyone is putting all their money in. It can get very ugly.
NYP: Do you think apps like Robin Hood are dangerous to amateur investors?
JB: I think, like most things, they are good and bad. The danger with Robin Hood is that it makes investors feel like it’s almost a video game. Charlie Munger — you know, Warren Buffett’s partner — said he thought it was the worst thing in the world. He said, like, there’s no free trading, that they’re selling your information and your workflow, and that nothing in this world is free. The best thing about Robin Hood is that you can trade instantly with no commission and the worst thing about it is you can trade instantly with no commission. You know, it could go either way. If you’re not disciplined, you could become a compulsive gambler on the platform. I didn’t agree with what they did. The way to handle the whole thing, I thought was kind of foolish. But I guess the truth will come out why they suspended the ability to buy it when they did. It kind of seemed a bit odd to me.
NYP: People are stuck at home during the pandemic with nothing to do. Do you think the pandemic has created the perfect storm for the Reddit rally to occur or is this a coincidence?
JB: You’re kind of hitting all the points here. One thing in this documentary, there’s a funny scene that we do where I use different objects to explain what happened. It’s like a little bit of this, a pinch of that. It’s a devilish cocktail. One of the parts of the cocktail is take a few billion people walking away long enough, and you give them nothing to do and then you put a phone in their hand with an app and you gamify it. You have the reality of social chat rooms. Now, you have seething anger at Wall Street institutions. It’s the perfect storm for something like this to happen. The spark in this case was the short squeeze. But it’s far more than that. It’s a bunch of things together that made this happen.
NYP: Do short sellers deserve the criticism they are getting from the WallStreetBets group?
JB: I think the biggest myth here for the average person is they don’t distinguish from short selling and these hyper-aggressive short funds that are literally betting and trying to drive companies out of business.
When someone goes short every day, it’s a healthy part of the market and it makes the market function more smoothly. I don’t think the market could go without short selling. It wouldn’t make any sense. But that’s very different than when a large hedge fund does deep research on something and makes this massive investment on the short side. Because the problem is, is that unlike the long side, is really expensive to stay short and to go short, relatively speaking. So it’s not enough for a short seller of that magnitude to be right. They have to be right at the right time. So we also get massively short. They will actively do things to try to precipitate the immediate fall of the stock. They’ll plant negative articles with journalists. They’ll try to start investigations to get their friends to short it that they’ll create the rumor mill. And that’s the uglier side of shorting. So it’s a very different thing than the normal shorting that people think of.
NYP: What would you say to the average rookie investor?
JB: One thing that you owe it to yourself and shame on you, if you don’t do this, is become financially literate. One of the great things about the Internet is that all information that you need to at least understand what you’re buying, why things go on, why things go down, it’s out there. I know it’s not the most exciting read but information is out there. Educate yourself and know what you’re investing in, why things go up, why they go down.
I always say, learn the Warren Buffet-style of things, like the real value. More of your money should be [invested] in that than the high-flying deal of the day, especially as you start to get older. It doesn’t matter when you’re in your 20s. You lose it all you make it back. But that starts to change with your 30s, and you build a family. It’s never good to lose all your money but at least the consequences aren’t as severe. I think that you should look at it that way. It’s a very healthy way. I think there’s a lot of good that comes from this as long as it’s tempered with other research and diversification.