Mizuno: Reddit commoners declare a populist war on wall street: Why Robinhood is a traitor to us retail investors


Courtesy of PYmnts.com

The Robinhood app transformed online investing, but has recently come under criticism for preventing people from interacting with GameStop’s stock.

Dane Mizuno, Staff Columnist

A hedge fund financially dead. A brokerage firm facing litigation. Blood has been shed, and that is not the end of it. The ravages of this blitzkrieg war, which was initiated by the commoners against the Wall Street elite, is causing mass havoc. 

Reddit group WallStreetBets has created a “power to the people” movement, an uprising, if you will, by banding together to buy GameStop shares in order to drive up the share price. This forced massive hedge funds—who bet that GameStop share prices would fall by shorting the stock—to short squeeze. As a result, the Wall Street short traders are being forced to buy up stock to minimize their losses, though their scramble to buy only fuels the movement. Essentially, the common people are leading Wall Street by the nose while also inflicting massive losses upon them.

As a retail investor myself, I initially saw this movement as, quite frankly, pretty comical. It has been mildly interesting to watch as the common people are fueled by their jealousy towards Wall Street Hedge Funds. Nevertheless, I am not cheering for their tactic, which provides no real social service to the market and, instead, sets forth a precedent that WallStreetBets can pump and dump the shares of whatever company they want like a casino. This scheme then disincentivizes social benefits, such as someone investing their hard-earned salary to save up for their retirement or compromising market liquidity.

However, any contempt I have for WallStreetBets is nothing compared to the transgressions committed by brokerage firm, Robinhood, which came in response to this GameStop frenzy.

Last Thursday, Robinhood had the audacity to halt the purchase of GameStop shares with the justification of meeting their clearinghouse requirement. With numerous volatile securities, including, but not limited to, GameStop, AMC Entertainment and Nokia, it certainly does sound legitimate. 

However, regardless of the reasoning, this type of restriction locks amateur investors out of the market while Wall Street hedge funds are freely able to access the market. Furthermore, this action also works in favor of Wall Street’s shorting position as it also dropped share prices. This goes against the very meaning and purpose upon which Robinhood was founded.

Five years ago, Robinhood’s idea of zero commissions brought forth a revolution to the stock market. It forced major brokerages like TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab to adopt this policy, promoting the idea that Robinhood was an ally of the common people. Furthermore, its incentive of offering free stock to users who join and invite their peers has highlighted the user-friendly aspect to its consumers. Now, all of the trust Robinhood has built with its users over the years is gone in a second.

While Robinhood is still very much a good brokerage for beginner investors—due to the simplistic nature of its app and website—I would prefer to continue and keep my hard-earned money in safer, more reliable brokerages like Vanguard and Fidelity, which do not restrict trading. After all, if both Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are in agreement to condemn what Robinhood is doing, then something is definitely wrong.

The solution to all this? Personally, I agree with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s view on holding the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accountable for these types of market manipulations. After all, the SEC’s main purpose is to enforce laws to protect investors. It is not that easy, though. 

The SEC’s previous dealings were with the major market players in Wall Street. Now, the SEC faces a different beast all together: thousands of small investors. The SEC has to first find who gained the most from the GameStop market manipulation. If Wall Street hedge funds profited, then short-selling capital requirements should increase for hedge funds, which would ensure that short selling becomes more difficult. After all, it was the billions of dollars of short selling that caused this problem in the first place. 

The alternative would be shutting down social media platforms, like Reddit’s WallStreetBets, but that would go against every concept of the First Amendment. Moreover, while Reddit does have the authority to shut it down—given that it is a private company—this would further strengthen the notion that Wall Street’s interests outweigh the interests of the common people, and this David versus Goliath case will not be viewed well by the public.