San Francisco: This past week, a trading card featuring quarterback Tom Brady sold for a record $1.3 million. The total value of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin hit $1 trillion. And Christie's sold a digital artwork by an artist known as Beeple for $69.3 million.
These seemingly singular events were all connected, part of a series of manias that have gripped the financial world. For months, professional and everyday investors have pushed up the prices of stocks and real estate. Now the frenzy has spilled over into the riskiest - and in some cases, wackiest - assets, including digital ephemera and media, cryptocurrencies, collectibles like trading cards and even sneakers.
The surges have been driven by a unique set of conditions. Even as millions were laid off in the pandemic, many people's bank accounts flourished, flush from relief checks and government cash infusions into the economy. But while people accumulated more money, traditional investments like stocks and bonds became less attractive.
So many got creative. Often, they were egged on by online communities on Reddit and Discord, where the next big investments were debated. They also turned to tech tools like the trading app Robinhood and the cryptocurrency platform Coinbase, which allowed them to buy and trade different items with the click of a button.
That has now led to minibubbles across a wide variety of esoteric categories, making once-obscure acronyms like SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies) and NFTs (nonfungible tokens) as ubiquitous as the S&P. It has also fed demand for this past week's public listings of companies like gaming site Roblox and South Korean e-commerce company Coupang, as well as for shares of video game retailer GameStop and other so-called "meme" stocks.
The manias, which have erupted at a time of deep economic pain, have introduced a large amount of risk to many investors. Some people have already racked up staggering losses on Robinhood. Other assets, like Bitcoin, are volatile, while sneakers and NFTs are so new that it is difficult to know what they will be worth over time.
For now, the bubble-upon-bubble behavior does not appear to pose a systemic risk to the broader financial system. But some investors said they were uneasy.
"Most people are cheering but at the same time shaking their heads and going, when is the bust coming?" said Jane Leung, chief investment officer at SVB Private Bank.