Gearoid Reidy and Shoko Oda, 12 March 2021
(Bloomberg) — A retail investor buys shares in a small company, touts his position on social media and inspires a horde of followers to do the same. The stock price goes to the moon — before crashing back to earth.
It’s an all-too-familiar tale to anyone watching the market in 2021, but this wasn’t GameStop Corp. It wasn’t even in America. And it happened in 2018.
It was in the Japanese city of Osaka, where a day trader who goes by the nickname Tonpin was betting on a tiny maker of precision dies and molds called Nichidai Corp. and broadcasting the fact on Twitter, where he has more than 55,000 followers. The stock surged more than sixfold in the first three months of 2018 before losing most of the gains.
The person behind the nickname was Toru Yamada, a former money manager, and he and another man have just been arrested for market manipulation, according to Japanese media reports. He wasn’t arrested for talking the stock up on Twitter, but on suspicion of trying to keep the share price down — albeit so it would have margin-trading restrictions removed which, when it happened, caused the shares to soar to new highs.
The incident shows how regulators sift through unusual trading patterns and come to conclusions often years later. It may pique the interest of protagonists and observers of the recent meme stock rally in the U.S., such as users of the Reddit forum WallStreetBets.
Yamada has yet to be charged, and it’s not clear whether he will be. And while nobody is suggesting that U.S. traders employed similar tactics to those he’s alleged to have used, the case illustrates the risks that can be associated with becoming a high-profile investor on social media. While you’re in the public spotlight, you may also be in the regulators’ crosshairs.