Cat lover, mullet wearer, chart fan: The dude who drove up GameStock and broke the stock market

For his followers, Gill is responsible for bringing about a major victory, and some respect to a class of investors who, like GameStop, have been underestimated

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Midway through last summer, Keith Gill wanted to talk about GameStop Corp. Shares in the struggling chain of video-game stores were trading around US$4, but he had been heavily invested for more than a year and was still so excited about its prospects that he devoted the first instalment of his Kitty Corner video series to the company.

“Some people won’t even tune into the stream right now when they hear that I’m bullish on GameStop,” he said to the camera in his suburban Boston basement. He was wearing a kitten t-shirt and a snapback hat atop his shoulder-length hair — a style one YouTube viewer mocked by saying, “Nice mullet, cat boy.”

Gill laughed off the jabs.

“I think everyone else is crazy and I think I’m right,” he said of his long position on GameStop, which operates as EB Games in Canada.

Months later, Gill’s belief in GameStop has been proven correct, albeit under very strange circumstances. On Friday, he was identified as the man behind the DeepFuckingValue (DFV) account that has reached folk hero status on Reddit in recent weeks.

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That account stirred up a major movement on the WallStreetBets subreddit, emboldening hordes of retail investors who follow the channel to buy up GameStop shares.

In mid-2019, DFV started posting screenshots of his brokerage account, showing a US$53,000 “YOLO” position on GameStop — slang in the WallStreetBets channel for a “you-only-live-once” type of bet on a stock. The regular screenshots of his position were first derided by other users, but slowly started to gain a following.

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Meanwhile, several major hedge funds had taken out massive short positions in the company, essentially borrowing shares and selling them, wagering that the share price would drop and the fund would be able to repurchase the shares at a cheaper price, repay their debts and profit on the difference.

But this week, as more and more Reddit users bought up more shares, GameStop’s price soared beyond US$300, forcing a painful “short squeeze” on the hedge funds that bet against it.

The story has become a global sensation, with one of the central questions being: Who’s behind it all?

According to the Wall Street Journal, Gill is a 34-year-old dad who lives in Wilmington, Mass., and until recently worked in marketing at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. The paper reported that Gill’s E-Trade brokerage account held US$33 million as of Thursday.

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“This story is so much bigger than me,” he told the Journal. “I support these retail investors, their ability to make a statement.”

Gill describes himself as a “value investor.” In videos on YouTube, he tries again and again to explain exactly why the broader market was overlooking the value hidden inside GameStop. His soft voice accelerates into bursts, as if he’s trying to jam more and more information into the space between breaths. It’s charming.

The whole point of his YouTube channel, he said, was to help educate a new audience of first-time traders who have cropped up in droves during the pandemic, perhaps out of boredom.

“I have a lot to say about it. I could talk about it for weeks,” he said about GameStop during that first Kitty Corner video in July 2020.

The Kitty Corner videos were supposed to be five or 10 minutes long, just a quick explanation of why Gill liked a particular stock. The video on GameStop is almost an hour.

Others had also spotted the same opportunity. For example, Michael Burry, the analyst made famous in The Big Short, bought in through his firm Scion Asset Management LLC. And Ryan Cohen, co-founder of the pet food e-commerce platform Chewy, also started building a sizable position in GameStop.

“It’s got mega-short squeeze written all over it,” said Brian McGough, managing director of Hedgeye Risk Management, who recommended his clients buy GameStop in December, when the share price was around US$14. “The broader institutional investor set thinks this thing is Blockbuster 2.0, which is just a very stale way of thinking.”

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The whole point of Keith Gill’s YouTube channel, he said, was to help educate a new audience of first-time traders who have cropped up in droves during the pandemic. Photo by YouTube

One of the big mistakes the hedge funds made, McGough said, was underestimating video-game discs — a key product on GameStop shelves — which have managed to stay relevant despite the emergence of digital downloads.

“All of these things have lined up, which just made this stock take off on a colossal run and people now better damn well be afraid to go ahead and short this stock because it could still blow up in their face,” he said. “Reddit certainly helped, but Reddit was one of four or five factors that led to this culmination.”

Nick Savona, chief compliance officer at Toronto brokerage firm Independent Trading Group, warned about getting too sucked into the good-and-evil narrative when it comes to the stock market.

“There’s no heroes in trading. There’s winners and losers,” he said.

Gill, too, seems keen to avoid such labels. In his videos, he comes off as a lover of charts and financial statements who managed to catch something a lot of people overlooked.

“I’m just a securities analyst in search of asymmetric upside,” he said in one video.

But for his followers on Reddit, he is responsible for bringing about a major victory, as well as some respect to a class of investors who, just like GameStop, have been underestimated by the Wall Street establishment.

“We must now do our part in having him written in the history books as the greatest that WallStreetBets has ever seen,” one user posted on Friday afternoon, alongside a photo of Gill in a bandana and a cat t-shirt.

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