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Save Fintech? Ban Short Selling. It's Not That Simple

Date: Tuesday, March 5, 2019 10:37 PM EDT

The pinhole puncture in the global "Fintech" bubble keeps growing, despite drastic attempts to seal it shut. The most recent and radical attempt occurred on February 18, when BaFin, Germany's financial regulator, issued a temporary short-selling ban in Wirecard after its shares plunged 40% in less than three weeks. Wrote one news source, "Germany bans speculative attacks on Wirecard stock," as if those shorting the market were wielding pitch forks and lobbing actual threats against the stock's upside.  

Incredibly, vilifying short sellers is as old as the market itself. The first short-selling ban occurred in 1610, after the Dutch East India Company crashed. Notorious short-seller Isaac Le Maire was barred from the market, leaving Amsterdam a pariah. In the 1790s, Napoleon Bonaparte charged short sellers with treason during the financial chaos of the French Revolution.

And, most infamous is Jesse L. Livermore, the brilliant trader who shorted the U.S. stock market in September 1929, earning $100 million ($1.7 billion in today's money) in the ensuing crash. Livermore was publicly skewered in newspapers as the "Great Bear of Wall Street."

Still, history shows that the draconian move of banning short selling is hardly effective. Amidst the Livermore debacle, the newly minted U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission made plans to reinstate a century-old short-selling ban, which didn't go into effect until 1934 -- after the U.S. stock market had already lost 89% in value.

In 2008, the SEC, acting in concert with the UK Financial Services Authority, prohibited short selling in 799 financial companies to stem the bleeding from the subprime mortgage meltdown. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox gave this assurance of the ban's efficacy: "The emergency order... will restore equilibrium to markets." Yet, instead, the global financial sector entered an accelerated and prolonged period of chaos and value destruction.

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