Bitcoin, GameStop and NIO bets turned this flight attendant into a millionaire: Now he’s wagering it all in one final push to $3 million

Don’t invest like Andrew Dawood — you may never be as lucky.

The Egyptian-born resident of Dubai turned roughly $50,000 in savings into $1.7 million on a series of white-knuckle bets on bitcoin BTCUSD, +2.41%, Chinese electric-vehicle maker NIO NIO, +4.69%, and videogame-retailer GameStop Corp. GME, +15.82% over a four-year period, he told MarketWatch in an interview.

He can technically call himself a millionaire; but, he’s risking it all to reach a goal of more than $3 million before 2025.

In many ways, Dawood’s tale represents the new type of buyer on Wall Street, eager to grow wealth and willing to make outsize wagers in the hope of minting boatloads of money on Wall Street — even if it imperils the entire bet in the process.

Dawood, who works as a flight attendant for one of the world’s largest airlines (he declined to identify the company by name), said he saved about $40,000 over four years and invested the entire amount in bitcoin on the Bittrex exchange, among others, at an average price of around $4,200 between Aug. 13 and Aug. 28 of 2017, accumulating 9.71 tokens.

MarketWatch looked over trade statements that he shared to confirm his transactions.

Andrew Dawood

“In my mind, if it gets to $5,000 or $6,000, fine, then I will sell it and be more than happy,” the 31-year-old told MarketWatch.

Then mishap struck, he frittered away 3.95 bitcoins by attempting to boost his stake in the digital asset by selling as the price rose in the hope of buying more when it retreated in value.

“But it didn’t work. Every time I sold, it just went higher, and I bought again quickly, I kept repeating and thus reduced my bitcoin to 5.76 bitcoin,” he explained.

It turned out to be an error that slashed about $70,000 from his account, at that time.

Dawood said that he eventually sold his remaining bitcoin to a man he met through www.localbitcoins.com, a site that matches buyers and sellers of crypto and touts human-to-human transactions.

The buyer wanted to wire him the sale proceeds but Dawood felt more comfortable meeting in a public place. Dawood arranged to meet at a nearby Dubai mall.

He accepted 370,000 Emirati Dirham AEDUSD, 0.00, the equivalent of about $100,000 at the time, in exchange for his 5.76 bitcoin.

“I counted the [money] and then deposited [it] in my 2 bank accounts in separate transactions.

Andrew Dawood

For most people, this is where the story ends, especially after taking a nearly 4-bitcoin profit in his crypto foray.

However, Dawood was itching to find a fresh investment. So he bought 15,500 shares of NIO at $4.64 on Jan. 23, 2020, and another chunk of 6,565 shares at $4.12 days later as the stock slipped, before making a final purchase of 2,055 shares at $12.79 in July.

In total, he was holding on to more than 24,000 NIO shares, which cost him a little over $125,000, including an additional $25,000 that he accumulated from winning bets in Organigram Holdings OGI, +3.30%, and Canadian cannabis company Aphria, which was bought by rival Tilray Inc. TLRY, +7.87% in a deal announced earlier this year.  

Nearly a year after his January 2020 buy, Dawood sold his more than 24,000 shares of NIO in December, bought at an average price of $7.18, at $46.603 for a total of $1.124 million, trading statements reviewed by MarketWatch show.

Andrew Dawood’s Sax Bank trading statements

Then, he took the money from his NIO investment and poured the entire sum into GameStop Corp. GME, +15.82%, purchasing more than 50,500 shares on Dec. 28, 2020 at around $22.

“It’s a stupid move, I agree,” he told MarketWatch. “And my friends and my family all told me not to.” But Dawood did it anyway.

Tales of thrill-seeking investors appear to be growing against a backdrop of a stock market that is flush with liquidity from central banks across the globe and a prevailing climate of low interest rates that have emboldened investors young and old to carve out paths that might make the likes of Berkshire Hathaway BRK.A, +0.12% BRK.B, +0.05% CEO Warren Buffett or Peter Lynch grimace.

Brokerages, offering zero-commission trades are riding this wave of new investors. Fidelity Investments, for example, said that it added 4.1 million new accounts in the first three months of 2021, up nearly 160% from the same period last year. And the surge in individual investors earlier in the year comes after many brokerages enjoyed a bumper 2020, when trading platforms added 10 million new accounts, according to data from JMP Securities, as stuck-at-home investors used pandemic stimulus funds to make stock bets.

National Securities chief market strategist Art Hogan said that “there are literally thousands of stories” like Dawood’s that “worked out the other way.”

“To me, this is a great sideshow story that really has nothing to do with investing whatsoever, but it’s the nature of what’s happening now,” Hogan said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.03%, the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.19% and the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, +0.59% have seen choppy trade in recent weeks, but indexes aren’t that far from record highs as investors wrestle with the prospect of higher inflation and a sizzling post-pandemic economy.

Read: Will individual investors stick around after pandemic’s ‘mind-blowing’ stock trading surge?

A recent New York Times article made crypto trader Glauber Contessoto famous, after documenting the 33-year-old’s outlandish, leveraged bets on “meme” asset dogecoin DOGEUSD, -0.69%, which had made him roughly $2 million as of early to mid-May.

Dogecoin has taken a precipitous drop along with the rest of the crypto complex since then, however.

See: Individual investors are back—here’s what it means for the stock market

Dawood says that he wants people to know his story because he thinks that too few of his friends and people his age are investing and he believes that saving isn’t enough to grow wealth.

There are a couple of things to know about Dawood’s GameStop wager. Had he been as patient with his GME bet as he was with NIO, he would be a millionaire many times over.

His shares would have been worth $17.5 million had he sold GameStop around the peak in January, and those shares would still be worth around $12 million if he owned them today.

But he says he sold them at $33 because a paper profit isn’t profit at all.

Despite this, Dawood grew his portfolio to roughly $1.7 million. Nothing to sneeze at, but hardly the money that he could have made.

Does he have any regrets? “Of course,” he said. But he’s living with it.

So what did Dawood do with the proceeds from GameStop?

He put it back in NIO and that is where it will stay until it hits $100. He’s already lost a chunk on that wager. NIO is trading at $37.92 as of Wednesday, or about half of where Dawood originally bought it.

Meanwhile, he has been supplementing his income by selling covered calls against his investment portfolio. A call is an option that gives the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy the underlying asset at a specified strike price by a certain time.

By selling calls, Dawood is effectively betting that the price won’t rise above the strike price, while collecting the premium paid by the buyer for the option.

Check out: How an options-trading frenzy is lifting stocks and stirring fears of a market bubble

If his stocks rise in value above the strike price, he pays the option buyer the difference between the equity price and the strike price. If the stock falls or doesn’t rise enough to hit the exercise price, he keeps the premium paid by the option buyer. He’s earned tens of thousands using that strategy so far and has lived off some of that income and invested it in NIO, most recently.

Dawood is currently on an eight-month unpaid leave from his airline gig as much of the world attempts to emerge from COVID. His expenses are minimal.

His company pays for his apartment, where he has lived for a number of years and he drives a modest vehicle for a would-be millionaire: a 2011 Ford Figo:

Andrew Dawood’s 2011 Ford Figo

He said that he plans to end his high-risk parlays once he hits $3 million, at which point he may buy property and purchase something more staid and secure than meme stocks and crypto.

“I will tell you that when you contemplate things like that, when you say to yourself ‘when I get to this amount, I will stop’ or whatever your goal is…you’re really just rolling the dice,” the National Securities’ Hogan added.

“Congratulations to him for how it’s turned out so far…but this isn’t investing, it’s gambling,” Hogan said.

Right now, Dawood isn’t blinking, despite NIO’s recent slump. “I believe in NIO,” he said and plus, “Tesla Inc. TSLA, +2.39% was too expensive for me,” he said.

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