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Losing its shine: Customers enter a GameStop store in San Rafael, California. Monthly average trading volumes of GameStop shares have dropped since July to their lowest levels for more than a year. — AFP

JOSE Castillo pulled his US$60,000 (RM251,907) worth of GameStop Corp shares from his brokerage last summer, even though he had no intention of selling them.

The 26-year-old information technology worker, who lives in the greater Minneapolis area, is among a growing number of investors in “meme” stocks – shares such as GameStop popular with day traders – who are withdrawing them from brokerages out of concern the shares will be lent to hedge funds engaging in short-selling.

Castillo pulled the shares out of Fidelity Investments and transferred them to his name using Computershare Ltd, an Australian stock transfer company.

Brokerages have been trying to reassure investors that they only lend shares of customers who are trading on borrowed funds. If they use their own cash, the shares are not loaned.

Castillo traded GameStop shares without using borrowed funds, but he still feared his shares would be lent.

He says he read about the “direct registration” of shares on Reddit, the social media platform that day traders turned to this year after the meme stock trading frenzy took off.

There, more and more investors have announced they have taken their shares out of brokerages through companies such as Computershare, arguing this will help shield them from short-selling.

“There is so much going on with a stock being shorted, people started to think how can I make sure that I own it and that somebody else isn’t doing anything that I don’t want with it,” Castillo says in an interview.

A Fidelity spokesperson declined to comment.

Paul Conn, president of Computershare’s global capital markets group, says he saw a wave of direct registration business starting in September that was driven by meme stock investors.

“Retail investors have asked their broker or bank to remove their investments from the ‘street name’ system and into their own name, directly onto the company’s share register,” Conn says.

Hedge funds short shares by borrowing and selling them, hoping they will drop in value so they can buy them back for less and pocket the difference.

Financial market experts say the push towards direct registration is unlikely to curtail this practice, because most hedge funds’ collateral comes from prime brokers rather than retail brokerages.

“The shares used to stock-loan from margined retail accounts are minimal compared to the stock-loan inventory from prime brokers and long lenders such as mutual funds and pension funds,” says research firm S3 Partners managing director Ihor Dusaniwsky.

Lowest levels

Monthly average trading volumes of GameStop shares have dropped since July to their lowest levels for more than a year, according to Refinitiv data. That was about the time that Reddit users began to advocate for the direct registration of shares.


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