“The S.E.C. has for years worried about hedge funds coordinating their positions and coordinating bear raids and otherwise engaging in activities to move around a stock,” said Tyler Gellasch, a former S.E.C. lawyer who heads the Healthy Markets Association, an investor group. “There are reporting requirements around that. But we’ve never really thought about that being done en masse and in public. The S.E.C.’s rules haven’t thought about what happens when it’s 100,000 people coordinating via Reddit versus three people coordinating via email.”
Those who know Mr. Gensler say his first move will probably be determining what actually caused the momentum and who benefited. While many big hedge funds got crushed by the trades, there is speculation among market participants and securities lawyers that other big funds may have been fueling — and making money off — some of the volatility.
“First of all, the S.E.C. has got to figure out what the hell was going on,” said James Cox, a securities professor at Duke University School of Law. “The first question is going to be an empirical one — how much of this momentum was created by the hedge funds having to cover their short position and how much of the rest was the impact of the options trading — either buying the options or just executing on the options.”
A bigger issue for Mr. Gensler will be figuring out corrective actions. While the stock market has always been something of a game, Mr. Cox and others say the recent events have perverted their original purpose, which is to provide a place for companies to raise capital by giving investors the information they need to determine where to put their money.
“When you see what’s happening with GameStop, you ask yourself, is this manipulation, is this mass psychosis or is there something wrong in our market structure that is causing this to happen,” said James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “This does illustrate some of the imperfections in our market structure and the real question is what, if anything, should be done about it.”
Mr. Gensler has spent the past several years teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focusing on financial technology, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. His classes have addressed some of the knotty issues he will have to face if confirmed to the S.E.C., including the rise of new financial technology companies like Robinhood and the so-called roboadviser Betterment.
In a 2019 discussion at M.I.T., Mr. Gensler said it would be “best to show some flexibility” when considering whether to regulate fintech companies since heavy-handed rules could snuff out innovation. Mr. Gensler declined to be interviewed for this article.