First, the spectacle of the Senate wasting its time, in the middle of a pandemic, on some trading junkies maybe having not made as much money as they felt entitled to, is pathetic. It shows how warped the priorities of our putative elites are. This is secondary market trading in one bloody stock. Secondary market trading is societally unproductive (more on that shortly) and should be discouraged by increasing transaction costs (this is one of the big reasons to push for a financial transactions tax, not for revenue purposes, although that’s a nice side bennie, but to shrink the financial casinos).
The company is unimportant. The parties on both sides are competitors in a beauty contest between Cinderella’s ugly sisters: clueless new gen day traders versus clumsy shorts, many of whom look inept at the basic survival requirement of managing trading risk. And as we’ll address in due course, the real bad guy, the SEC for promoting such a socially unproductive market, has yet to receive the criticism it deserves. It’s simply bizarre that cheap market liquidity is being treated as some sort of right.
The focus has been the traders on Robinhood, a free trading platform, although some of the bigger low-cost services also had some trading halts in GameStop. These punters are surprised that a free service might not give them the best, or any execution in a bad market? Did they not work out that they were the product and having their order flow to Citadel might not be a great position to put themselves in?1Or as Financial Times reader AM put it:
Robinhood (RH) is a broker. They don’t execute stock orders themselves. They sign up customers, route their orders to executing brokers, and keep track of who owns what. RH is also its own clearing broker, so they directly settle and custody their clients’ securities.
Yes, RH is paid by Citadel to handle executing some of its order flow. This isn’t as nefarious as it sounds – Citadel Equity Securities is paying to execute retail orders because they aren’t pernicious (like having 500x the size behind them).
RH offered to open up stock market investing more broadly. They succeeded, clearly. But the regulations didn’t change – there are still pro-Wall St, pro-incumbent rules and capital requirements. It’s one of the most highly regulated industries in our nation.
So @AOC is right to ask how it can be that Robinhood stopped its clients from buying certain securities. And what she’ll find is that the reason is that Dodd-Frank requires brokers like RH to post collateral to cover their clients’ trading risk pre-settlement.
Investors who sold GameStop short have lost $23.6 billion so far in 2021 through Wednesday, by the count of financial analytics firm S3 Partners. That includes $14.3 billion yesterday, as the retailer’s stock price shot up 135%.
In response to the controversy, Robinhood and Interactive Brokers Group curbed trading on GameStop, AMC, and several others Thursday morning. GameStop shares began to reverse direction. How long the restrictions would last was unclear. Frustrated amateur traders, of course, might just take their business to platforms that don’t limit them.
The pain is intense for these hedge funds. Citron Capital’s Andrew Left, often disparaged on Reddit, just said his firm folded a GameStop short bet, after losing 100% of its money spent on the transaction. Melvin Capital Management has slumped about 30% as the result of GameStop short sales, according to published reports. New York Mets owner Steve Cohen’s Point72 fund and Ken Griffin’s Citadel have stakes in Melvin.