Could Robinhood Shut down? Traders & Regulators Raise Questions & Criticism

The GameStop (NYSE:GME) saga that has gripped global markets for the past week is already having far-reaching implications for the financial industry. Regulators, analysts and participants alike are reeling (and rejoicing) at what has been one of the largest grass-roots financial movements to ‘stick it to the man’ in decades, or possibly longer. While hedge funds were the initial target of retail investors on the WallStreetBets (WSB) subreddit, it seems that the retail movement could pose a threat to the stability of other institutions operating in the financial industry, namely Robinhood.

Indeed, Robinhood came under fire from its disgruntled user base and lawmakers alike last week after the platform made the decision to block its retail customers from trading some 50 assets. Most notable among these were GME, AMC and a number of other ‘meme stocks’ that WSB had latched onto.

On Sunday, Reuters reported that Robinhood will still not resume trading of eight of the retail assets it blocked last week, including GME.

Robinhood continues to claim that the decision to limit trades was made to protect retail traders from getting burned. However, as CBS News reported: “the decision is sparking a backlash by investors, consumer advocates and lawmakers who claim Robinhood’s freeze hurt customers while helping the hedge funds it does business with.”

Indeed, the Washington Post reported that People were particularly outraged by the trading limitations because of Robinhood’s close relationship with Citadel, a large-scale liquidity provider, that works with many Wall Street institutions.

“After the trading halt, Reddit users accused Citadel and its billionaire Founder, Ken Griffin, of pressuring Robinhood to limit trading of certain stocks, a move that may have prevented further losses for the short-sellers that lost billions betting against GameStop,” the publication reported.

NYT: Robinhood Limited Trading Because of a Lack of Funding

However, it was later revealed that the reason for Robinhood’s retail limitations was unlikely because of relationships with institutional clients. The New York Times reported that instead, the company may have instituted the ban because it literally could not afford to pay transaction fees: after all, trades on the platform are free for users.

“Robinhood, one of the largest online brokerages, has grappled with an extraordinarily high volume of trading this week as individual investors have piled into stocks like GameStop,” the Times reported. “That activity has put a strain on Robinhood, which has to pay customers who are owed money from trades while posting additional cash to its clearing facility to insulate its trading partners from potential losses.”

The company reported on Thursday that it has raised an injection of more than $1 billion from its existing investors to make up for the shortage in cash. Robinhood spokesman, Josh Drobnyk said in an email that the fundraising was “a strong sign of confidence from investors that will help us continue to further serve our customers.”

Barred from Buying on Robinhood, Retail Traders Looked Elsewhere

In any case, the combination of Robinhood’s trading limitations and the too-close-for-comfort relationship with Citadel has enraged its customer base. While Robinhood has not released any official data, there seems to be a movement of retail traders away from Robinhood and onto other trading platforms, not just because of principle, but also because of the fact that retail traders are still hot to trot for more GME stock.

Similarly, lawmakers in the United States also took aim at Robinhood after it barred retail traders from GME and other stocks. Perhaps most notable was the odd couple formed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who both condemned Robinhood’s actions in an awkward series of tweets last week.

Additionally, over the weekend, a number of articles began appearing across the internet detailing possible alternatives to Robinhood. Simultaneously, google searches for ‘Robinhood’ exploded along with search terms related to last week’s drama, including ‘GME’ and ‘WallStreetBets’.

Will Robinhood Shut Down?

Therefore, it is likely that Robinhood could suffer some long-term consequences for its decision to bar retail traders from certain stocks last week. But, could the damage be so severe that it might endanger the very existence of the platform?

Most analysts seem to agree that it is unlikely at this point: the possibilities of either bankruptcy or forced regulatory shutdown seems fairly slim. However, some naysayers are telling Robinhood users to prepare for the worst.

For example, Ross Gerber, President and Chief Executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management wrote on Twitter that “so if Robinhood goes under the SEC will freeze all the accounts. The SIPC protects up to $500k in accounts. It takes months to unwind and get your money back. Move the money now. This could become a nightmare.”

Similarly, the term ‘delete Robinhood’ became more common on Twitter.

Robinhood was not immediately available for comment. Comments will be added to this piece as they are received. 

(Photo: Robinhood)

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