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The SEC Finally Says Enough to One Social Media-Fueled Trade – Barron's



The SEC ordered a trading halt in SpectraScience stock because of a coordinated attempt to manipulate stock prices on social media. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

AFP via Getty Images

The Securities and Exchange Commission finally ordered a trading halt in a stock because of a coordinated attempt to manipulate stock prices on social media. Sound familiar? It should to anyone that followed the


saga. But this time the social-media mob wasn’t targeting a dying company—it was touting a dead one.

That company is


which hasn’t filed annual or quarterly reports for years. The company’s market capitalization is about $11 million and its stock trades at a fraction of a penny, but it was up about 450% over the past month.

Then the SEC halted trading, on what looked to be a good, old-fashioned pump-and-dump scheme.

It goes like this: A position is built slowly in a small, thinly traded stock. The stock starts to rise, the gains are touted, and new investors drive prices even higher. The original buyers sell into the strength—and new investors are left holding the bag. If that is what happened here, it would be considered a crime.

The SEC’s action is also a warning to all investors that chasing stocks based on nothing more than a social-media post is a risky trading strategy. Remember the adage from experienced poker players: If you can’t identify the sucker at the table, it’s you.

Al Root

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Pot Stocks Surged; Then They Plunged

For months, pot stocks have rallied as investors bet on the chances of changing U.S. federal cannabis laws. On Thursday, shares in cannabis companies fell back to earth.

  • Canadian marijuana stocks



    Aurora Cannabis


    Canopy Growth

    all saw double-digit drops, with Tilray shaving nearly 50% off its value and erasing all its gains from the previous day.

  • ETFMG Alternative Harvest,

    an exchange-traded fund with exposure to the pot business, dipped nearly 25% Thursday, but is still up almost 75% year-to-date.

  • It’s hard to pinpoint a reason for Thursday’s drop. Some analysts note that Reddit traders who caused huge fluctuations in so-called meme stocks moved on to pot stocks. That could be the case: Shares of Canadian-based growers hyped on social media have soared while U.S.-based stocks that weren’t have been calm.

  • Democrats’ commitment to using their new Senate majority to overhaul U.S. marijuana laws has been the key driver of the pot-stock rally in recent weeks. A raft of state-level measures allowing or expanding pot legalization passed last fall. While President Joe Biden doesn’t support federal legalization, he supports decriminalization.

What’s Next: One of the top posts on Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum on Thursday morning likened the recent action in Canadian pot stocks to a casino. Given GameStop’s trajectory, that attention “should be cautionary,” Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Pablo Zuanic told Barron’s.

—Ben Walsh


Fauci Estimates That All Americans Will Be Eligible for Coronavirus Vaccinations in April

As the U.S. vaccination effort continues to ramp up, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday that by April it would be “open season” on Covid-19 vaccine eligibility in the U.S.

  • “Virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated” by April, Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on NBC’s Today Show.

  • Vaccine eligibility varies by state but is currently largely restricted to certain occupations, like healthcare workers and essential workers, people 65 or older, and others with health conditions that put them at increased risk for severe outcomes.

  • While shortages remain a problem, the Biden administration said Thursday that it had secured enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of July. Currently, 10.5% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose.

  • U.S. Covid-19 hospitalizations have fallen 40% in the past month, while the seven-day average of Covid-19 deaths, a lagging indicator, has fallen to its lowest level in a month.

What’s Next: Even as conditions improve, the prevalence of more transmissible variants concerns health officials. In Florida, for instance, the B-117 mutation first found in the U.K. is causing cases to spike.

—Ben Walsh


Disney Posts a Surprise Profit as Disney+ Keeps Racking Up Subscribers

Media and entertainment giant

Walt Disney’s

latest quarterly results showed that its legacy businesses are recovering ahead of schedule, while growth at Disney+ continues to accelerate.

  • Disney managed to turn a profit of 2 cents per share, compared with the 71-cent loss Wall Street analysts had forecast. Revenue also beat estimates at $16.3 billion versus the $15.9 billion expected.

  • Disney+ added 21 million paid subscribers in the quarter, to start 2021 with almost 95 million subscribers worldwide—up from 26.5 million a year ago. Revenue for Disney’s streaming business overall rose 73% year over year, to $3.5 billion.

  • The pandemic is still weighing heavily on Disney’s theme parks and cruises, where revenues fell 53% for the quarter, to $3.6 billion. That’s better than earlier in 2020, an improvement CEO Bob Chapek credits to the company’s Covid-19 protocols that have allowed it to boost attendance safely.

  • Disney stock rose 1.4% in premarket trading Friday, to about $193.50. The stock is up about 36% over the past year.

What’s Next: The price of Disney+ in the U.S. will increase by $1 a month, to $7.99, starting in March, while other countries will see similar increases in their local currencies.

Nicholas Jasinski


Trump’s Defense Is Up Next in Impeachment Trial

House Democrats wrapped up their case on the third day of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. The defense team will respond Friday afternoon.

  • Pointing to comments from rioters, the prosecutors sought to demonstrate that the storming of the Capitol was done at Trump’s instruction.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) argued that if Trump isn’t held accountable for a high crime and misdemeanor it would set a “new terrible standard for presidential misconduct.”

  • “Let’s not get caught up in a lot of outlandish lawyers’ theories here,” Raskin said. “Exercise your common sense about what just took place in our country.”
    What’s Next:
    Trump’s defense team will make their case Friday. Multiple outlets reported the former president’s lawyers anticipate wrapping up their arguments in one day.

—Connor Smith


Amsterdam Overtakes London as Europe’s Top Stock-Trading Venue

The Dutch capital is displacing London as the exchange of choice to trade European shares and derivatives, in one of the first major financial consequences of Britain leaving Europe’s single market at the beginning of the year.

  • Amsterdam stock exchanges have seen more than €9 billion ($11 billion) worth of shares traded a day during January, up from a daily €2.6 billion in 2020, according to data released this week. That compares with €8.6 billion of trades in London last month, down from €17.5 billion last year.

  • Meanwhile the trading of euro-denominated swaps—a key derivative—dropped from 40% of the market last year to 10% in January, according to an IHS Markit survey.

  • The trading of carbon emission permit is also gradually moving away from London, according to industry professionals.

  • The changes have been triggered by the absence of dispositions for financial services in the EU-UK trade deal signed late last year, with the EU now insisting that euro-denominated trades have to be supervised and regulated by European bodies.

What’s Next: After a major shift in January, the outflows will slow in the coming months but the trend is unlikely to reverse. And Brussels, playing for time, will wait until more business has moved to the continent before it starts granting U.K. financial players the regulatory equivalence authorizations to do business in the EU.

—Pierre Briançon


Do you remember this week’s news? How well do you know your Wall Street history? Take our quiz below about this week’s news and an additional question to commemorate Barron’s turning 100 this year. Tell us how you did in an email to

1. Tom Brady, at 43, led the Tampa Bay Bucs to a Super Bowl win during his first year with the team. How many times has Brady won a Super Bowl during his career?

a. 5 times

b. 6 times

c. 7 times

d. 8 times



just bought $1.5 billion in Bitcoin and the electric-vehicle company expects to start accepting Bitcoin as payment for its products soon. Bitcoin prices jumped on the news. Which company currently accepts Bitcoin for payment?



Dell Technologies



d. None of the above

3. Which San Francisco-based company and tenant of the city’s tallest building announced that more than half of its 50,000-plus global employees will work remotely at least part-time?


Wells Fargo






4. Which company got FDA clearance this week for a combination of two of its antibody-based drugs to treat recently diagnosed Covid-19 in high risk patients?

a. Regeneron

b. Merck


Eli Lilly



5. Which airline announced this week that it plans to buy up to 200 flying taxis valued at $1 billion from an electric aircraft start-up, Archer, which itself announced plans to become a public company via a combination with a SPAC?


United Airlines


American Airlines Group


Southwest Airlines


Delta Air Lines

100 Years of Barron’s
6. Which electric-powered passenger car did

General Motors

introduce, and kill off, in the 1990s?

a. The Bolt

b. The CitiCar

c. The EV1

d. The Starlite

Answers: 1(c); 2(a); 3(b); 4(c); 5(a); 6(c)

Pauline Yuelys and Kenneth G. Pringle


—Newsletter edited by Matt Bemer, Anita Hamilton, Ben Levisohn, Stacy Ozol, Mary Romano

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Russia rebukes Facebook for blocking some media posts – Yahoo Finance




Biggest Players in the Short-Selling Game Are Getting a Pass

(Bloomberg) — It’s in the air again, on Reddit, in Congress, in the C-suite: Hedge funds that get rich off short-selling are the enemy. The odd thing is, the biggest players in the game are getting a pass.Those would be the asset managers, pension plans and sovereign wealth funds that provide the vast majority of securities used to take bearish positions. Without the likes of BlackRock Inc. and State Street Corp., the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the Kuwait Investment Authority filling such an elemental role, investors such as Gabe Plotkin, whose Melvin Capital Management became a piñata for day traders in the GameStop Corp. saga, wouldn’t have shares to sell short.“Anytime we short a stock, we locate a borrow,” Plotkin said Feb. 18 at the House Financial Services Committee hearing on the GameStop short squeeze.There’s plenty to choose from. As of mid-2020, some $24 trillion of stocks and bonds were available for such borrowing, with $1.2 trillion in shares — equal to a third of all hedge-fund assets — actually out on loan, according to the International Securities Lending Association.It’s a situation that on the surface defies logic. Given the popular belief that short sellers create unjustified losses in some stocks, why would shareholders want to supply the ammunition for attacks against their investments? The explanation is fairly straight forward: By loaning out securities for a small fee plus interest, they can generate extra income that boosts returns. That’s key in an industry where fund managers are paid to beat benchmarks and especially valuable in a world of low yields.The trade-off is simple: For investors with large, diversified portfolios, a single stock plummeting under the weight of a short-selling campaign has little impact over the long run. And in the nearer term, the greater the number of aggregate bets against a stock — the so-called short interest — the higher the fee a lender can charge.In the case of GameStop, short interest was unusually high and shares on loan were generating an annualized return of 25% to 30%, Ken Griffin testified at the Feb. 18 hearing. Griffin operates a market maker, Citadel Securities, as well as Citadel, one of the world’s largest hedge funds.“Securities lending is a way for long holders to generate additional alpha,” said Nancy Allen of DataLend, which compiles data on securities financing. “Originally, it was a way to cover costs, but over the last 10 to 15 years it’s become an investment function.”Not everyone is comfortable with the inherent conflict. In December 2019, Japan’s $1.6 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund stopped lending its international stock holdings to short sellers, calling the practice inconsistent with its responsibilities as a fiduciary. At the time, the decision cost GPIF about $100 million a year in lost revenue.The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has regulated short-selling since the 1930s and polices the market for abuses such as naked shorting, which involves taking a short position without borrowing shares. Proponents of legal shorting argue that its use enhances liquidity, improves pricing and serves a critical role as a bulwark against fraud and hype.Chief executives, whose pay packages often depend on share performance, routinely decry short sellers as vultures. More recently, shorting has come under fire in the emotionally charged banter on Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum. Some speculators ran up the prices of GameStop, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and other meme stocks in January to punish the hedge funds that bet against them, and they delighted when the rampant buying led to bruising losses at Melvin, Maplelane Capital and Citron Research.Many of the key actors in the GameStop frenzy testified at the Feb. 18 hearing. Plotkin was grilled by committee members over Melvin’s short position. Citadel’s Griffin and others faced broader questions about short-selling. Yet no one asked about the supply of borrowed shares and there were no witnesses called from the securities-lending industry.There’s a symbiotic relationship between hedge funds and the prime-brokerage units of Wall Street firms, much of it built on securities lending. Prime brokers act as intermediaries, sourcing stocks and bonds for borrowers who want to short them and facilitate the trades. According to DataLend, securities lending generated $2.9 billion of broker-to-broker revenue in 2020, almost the same as in 2019.Demand for short positions was already expected to drop as stock prices surged to all-time highs. Now, with the threat of retribution from the Reddit crowd, it may weaken even further. Griffin said he has “no doubt” there’ll be less short-selling as a consequence of the GameStop squeeze.“I think the whole industry will have to adapt,” Plotkin said at the hearing. “I don’t think investors like myself want to be susceptible to these types of dynamics.”This could not only threaten the dealers who broker stock lending but also the holders who supply the securities and share in the revenue. They reaped $7.7 billion globally in 2020, down from a record of almost $10 billion in 2018, according to DataLend. Lending fees increased by 4.2% on a year-over-year basis in February after the GameStop onslaught, DataLend says.While securities lending accounted for $652 million, or just 4%, of BlackRock’s revenue in the fourth quarter of 2020, there’s little cost involved and the risks are low because borrowers have to put up collateral that equals or exceeds the value of the loan. At both BlackRock and State Street Corp., the second-largest custody bank, the value of securities on loan as of Dec. 31 jumped at least 20% from a year earlier, to $352 billion and $441 billion, respectively.“Every little bit counts with indexes,” said John Rekenthaler, vice president of research at Morningstar. “You’re scraping nickels off the street, but there’s a whole lot of nickels.”Others could take a hit, too. Just as Robinhood Markets is able to offer zero-commission trades by selling its order flow to Citadel and other market makers, asset managers typically pass on some of their securities-lending revenue as a type of client rebate.“It’s very important to remember that institutional investors earn substantial returns from participating in the securities-lending market,” Citadel’s Griffin said at the GameStop hearing. “That accrues to the benefit of pension plans, of ETFs, of other pools of institutional lending that participate in the securities lending market.”(Adds data on lending fees after the short-interest chart.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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'Self-serving': UK media tabloids hit back at Meghan and Harry's interview – CNN



Meghan revealed during the sit-down conversation that life within the royal family was so isolating, lonely and lacking in support that she had experienced suicidal thoughts. She also said that individuals within the institution had raised concerns about the color of their son Archie’s skin.
Even before the interview — Meghan’s first since she and her husband announced plans to step back from senior roles in the British royal family — the UK media had been criticizing the event. The relationship between the couple and the country’s press, and particularly newspaper tabloids, has long been tumultuous.
The Daily Mail ran wall-to-wall coverage of the interview, and tried to fit all of the bombshells into a single headline this way: “Meghan claims she was suicidal when she was 5 months pregnant, Kate made HER cry and Royals refused to make Archie a prince because they were worried how ‘dark’ he would be, as Harry reveals their new baby will be a GIRL.” The website was dominated with coverage, including at least 13 articles about the interview that included photos.
The interview aired Sunday on CBS during primetime US hours, and 1 a.m. local UK time.
The tabloid’s website also included a prominent banner that read: “I WANTED TO KILL MYSELF,” and featured a clip playing on loop from the interview, which showed Meghan saying, with subtitles: “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.”
Another article on the website ripped into the couple’s discussion during the interview about life in the United States, where they are raising chickens.
“Back to basics at their $14.5 million mansion,” read one headline.
Monday’s print edition of the Daily Mail, meanwhile, highlighted the allegations about concerns of Archie’s skin color: “MEGHAN ACCUSES PALACE OF RACISM,” the front page of Monday’s edition of the Daily Mail read. While other news outlets used images provided by Harpo Productions, Winfrey’s production company, the Daily Mail chose a closely cropped image focused on Meghan’s face.
The deluge of stories on the Daily Mail homepage follows a dismissive pre-interview banner headline earlier on Sunday, in which the outlet attempted to lambast the CBS special as “a sideshow.”
Other newspapers were also quick to weigh in on the potential fallout of the interview.
“Meghan Markle may never return to Britain after angering Royal Family with bombshell Oprah interview,” The Sun newspaper wrote, referring to Meghan’s name before marriage. It cited “insiders [who] fear she and Prince Harry could have burnt their bridges by failing to tell family members what was in the two-hour chat before it was shown.”
The publication has come up with a new nickname for Meghan amid her rift with the royal family: “Megxile.” Previously, British tabloids have labeled the couple’s decision to step away from their royal duties “Megxit,” a riff on the term used to describe the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.
“Queen: Duty and family unite us,” read the front page of the Daily Express newspaper. “That’s public service for you, Harry and Meghan … NOT a self-serving TV chat with Oprah.”
Even ahead of the program, British tabloids came armed for the occasion, which was among the biggest royal interviews in decades.
On Monday, the Daily Mirror’s print edition will point to Princes “Charles & William’s ‘immense sadness'” amid “Oprah interview fallout,” Sky News reported.
Both the duke and duchess have increasingly opened up about the harsh media scrutiny they have received.
Last month, Prince Harry told late night talk show host James Corden that his experiences had prompted him to take a step back from the royal family. “We all know what the British press can be like, and it was destroying my mental health,” he said.
And in April of last year, Harry and Meghan said they would cut off all dealings with four of the United Kingdom’s biggest tabloid newspapers after years of strained relations. The couple has also tussled with the media in court.
In the interview with Oprah on Sunday, Meghan said that it had become painfully clear that there were double standards in how the media covered her and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge and wife to Prince William, who is second in the line of succession to the British throne.
“I can see now what layers were at play there. And again, they really seemed to want a narrative of a hero and a villain,” said Meghan.
Coverage of the interview with Meghan and Harry was not limited to the tabloids. British morning shows and broadsheets also featured excerpts prominently on Monday.
How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.
— Brian Stelter contributed to this report.

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GOP pushes bills to allow social media 'censorship' lawsuits – Yahoo Canada Finance



Republican state lawmakers are pushing for social media giants to face costly lawsuits for policing content on their websites , taking aim at a federal law that prevents internet companies from being sued for removing posts.

GOP politicians in roughly two dozen states have introduced bills that would allow for civil lawsuits against platforms for what they call the “censorship” of posts. Many protest the deletion of political and religious statements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Democrats, who also have called for greater scrutiny of big tech, are sponsoring the same measures in at least two states.

The federal liability shield has long been a target of former President Donald Trump and other Republicans, whose complaints about Silicon Valley stifling conservative viewpoints were amplified when the companies cracked down on misleading posts about the 2020 election.

Twitter and Facebook, which are often criticized for opaque policing policies, took the additional step of silencing Trump on their platforms after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Twitter has banned him, while a semi-independent panel is reviewing Facebook’s indefinite suspension of his account and considering whether to reinstate access.

Experts argue the legislative proposals are doomed to fail while the federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, is in place. They said state lawmakers are wading into unconstitutional territory by trying to interfere with the editorial policies of private companies.

Len Niehoff, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, described the idea as a “ constitutional non-starter.”

“If an online platform wants to have a policy that it will delete certain kinds of tweets, delete certain kinds of users, forbid certain kinds of content, that is in the exercise of their right as a information distributer,” he said. “And the idea that you would create a cause of action that would allow people to sue when that happens is deeply problematic under the First Amendment.”

The bills vary slightly but many allow for civil lawsuits if a social media user is censored over posts having to do with politics or religion, with some proposals allowing for damages of $75,000 for each blocked post. They would apply to companies with millions of users and carve out exemptions for posts that call for violence, entice criminal acts or other similar conduct.

The sponsor of Oklahoma’s version, Republican state Sen. Rob Standridge, said social media posts are being unjustly censored and that people should have a way to challenge the platforms’ actions given their powerful place in American discourse. His bill passed committee in late February on a 5-3 vote, with Democrats opposed.

“This just gives citizens recourse,” he said, adding that the companies “can’t abuse that immunity” given to them through federal law.

Part of a broad, 1996 federal law on telecoms, Section 230 generally exempts internet companies from being sued over what users post on their sites. The statute, which was meant to promote growth of the internet, exempts websites from being sued for removing content deemed to be “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable” as long as the companies are acting in “good faith.”

As the power of social media has grown, so has the prospect of government regulation. Several congressional hearings have been held on content moderation, sometimes with Silicon Valley CEOs called to testify. Republicans, and some Democrats, have argued that the companies should lose their liability shield or that Section 230 should be updated to make the companies meet certain criteria before receiving the legal protection.

Twitter and Facebook also have been hounded over what critics have described as sluggish, after-the-fact account suspensions or post takedowns, with liberals complaining they have given too much latitude to conservatives and hate groups.

Trump railed against Section 230 throughout his term in office, well before Twitter and Facebook blocked his access to their platforms after the assault on the Capitol. Last May, he signed a largely symbolic executive order that directed the executive branch to ask independent rule-making agencies whether new regulations could be placed on the companies.

“All of these tech monopolies are going to abuse their power and interfere in our elections, and it has to be stopped,” he told supporters at the Capitol hours before the riot.

Antigone Davis, global head of safety for Facebook, said these kinds of proposals would make it harder for the site to remove posts involving hate speech, sexualized photos of minors and other harmful content.

“We will continue advocating for updated rules for the internet, including reforms to federal law that protect free expression while allowing platforms like ours to remove content that threatens the safety and security of people across the United States,” she said.

In a statement, Twitter said: “We enforce the Twitter rules judiciously and impartially for everyone on our service – regardless of ideology or political affiliation – and our policies help us to protect the diversity and health of the public conversation.”

Researchers have not found widespread evidence that social media companies are biased against conservative news, posts or materials.

In a February report, New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights called the accusations political disinformation spread by Republicans. The report recommended that social media sites give clear reasoning when they take action against material on their platforms.

“Greater transparency — such as that which Twitter and Facebook offered when they took action against President Trump in January — would help to defuse claims of political bias, while clarifying the boundaries of acceptable user conduct,” the report read.

While the federal law is in place, the state proposals mostly amount to political posturing, said Darrell West, vice-president of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a public policy group.

“This is red meat for the base. It’s a way to show conservatives they don’t like being pushed around,” he said. “They’ve seen Trump get kicked off Facebook and Twitter, and so this is a way to tell Republican voters this is unfair and Republicans are fighting for them.”


Izaguirre reported from Lindenhurst, New York


Associated Press coverage of voting rights receives support in part from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Anthony Izaguirre, The Associated Press

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