“Unrestrained financial exploitations have been one of the great causes of our present tragic condition.” — President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933
Why did gold and silver stocks just get hammered, at a time when commodities are considered a safe haven against widespread global uncertainty? The answer, according to Bill Murphy’s newsletter LeMetropoleCafe.com, is that the sector has been the target of massive short selling. For some popular precious metal stocks, close to half the trades have been “phantom” sales by short sellers who did not actually own the stock.
A bear raid is the practice of targeting a stock or other asset for take-down, either for quick profits or for corporate takeover. Today the target is commodities, but tomorrow it could be something else. When Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in September 2008, some analysts thought the investment firm’s condition was no worse than its competitors. What brought it down was a massive bear raid on 9-11 of that year, when its stock price dropped by 41 percent.
The stock market has been plagued by these speculative attacks ever since the four-year industry-wide bear raid called the Great Depression, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average was reduced to 10 percent of its former value. Whenever the market decline slowed, speculators would step in to sell millions of dollars worth of stock they did not own but had ostensibly borrowed just for purposes of sale, using the device known as the short sale. When done on a large enough scale, short selling can force prices down, allowing assets to be picked up very cheaply.
Another Great Depression is the short seller’s dream, as a trader recently admitted on a BBC interview. His candor was unusual, but his attitude is characteristic of a business that is all about making money, regardless of the damage done to real companies contributing real goods and services to the economy.
Here is how the short-selling game is played: stock prices are set by traders whose job is to match buyers with sellers. Short sellers willing to sell at any price are matched with the low-ball buy orders. When sell orders overwhelm buy orders, the price drops. The short sellers then buy the stocks back at the lower price and pocket the difference. Today, speculators have to drop the price only enough to trigger the automatic stop loss orders and margin calls of the big mutual funds and hedge funds. A cascade of sell orders follows, and the price plummets.