Robinhood CEO explains commerce restrictions

Robinhood Co-Founder and Co-CEO Vlad Tenev speaks on stage during the TechCrunch Disrupt New York event on May 10, 2016.

Noam Galai | Getty Images for TechCrunch

Robinhood’s co-founder visited the audio app Clubhouse on Sunday to defend the investment platform’s decision to restrict trading in GameStop and other volatile stocks.

GameStop shares are up more than 1,500% since the start of the year, thanks in no small part to a wave of retail investors inspired by Reddit board WallStreetBets. Such investors accumulated in GameStop and other stocks with heavy short positions, causing huge losses for some hedge funds.

Robinhood on Thursday restricted trading in a number of stocks, including GameStop and AMC Entertainment. Tenev said at the time that the decision was aimed at protecting the company and its customers.

In the clubhouse meeting, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, pushed Robinlades Vlad Tenev on why the platform, a pioneer in commission-free trading, decided to restrict trading last week. The online brokerage firm restricted trading in 13 stocks, which allowed clients to sell positions but not open new ones in certain stocks, causing anger among users.

“We had no choice in this case,” said Tenev. “We had to meet our regulatory capital requirements.”

Tenev said Robinhood’s operations team received a request from the National Securities Clearing Corporation at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time Thursday. Robinhood and other clearing brokers have to meet certain deposit requirements every day from clearing houses like the NSCC. The amount required is based on factors such as volatility and concentration in certain securities, Tenev said.

Robinhood received a $ 3 billion bond application from the NSCC to help secure business. “An order of magnitude more than usual,” said Tenev. The company raised an additional $ 1 billion in emergency capital from existing investors to prop up its balance sheet and ease trade restrictions.

“Did something shady go down here?” Musk – who has shown support for WallStreetBets on Twitter – asked Tenev.

“I wouldn’t ascribe any shadiness or anything to it,” replied Tenev. “The NSCC was sensible after that.”

Robinhood and the NSCC later agreed to cut the figure from $ 3 billion to around $ 1.4 billion, but Tenev said his company was still forced to take action to limit trade.

Tenev’s explanation of the situation echoed a blog post by Robinhood in which the company stated that some securities are temporarily subject to purchase restrictions due to a tenfold increase in clearinghouse deposit requirements.

When asked by Musk if there would be more trade restrictions in the future, Tenev said, “I think there will always be a theoretical limit. We don’t have infinite capital.”

Musk also asked Tenev whether Citadel Securities – the largest options market maker in the United States – had pushed the company to set trading limits. Robinhood generates a significant portion of its revenue from referring orders to market makers such as Citadel and Virtu. Citadel also helped inject nearly $ 3 billion into Melvin Capital, a hedge fund betting against stocks like GameStop.

“How committed are you to the citadel?” Musk asked, to which Tenev replied, “There’s a rumor that Citadel or other market makers forced us to do it, and that’s just wrong.”

“This was a clearinghouse decision based only on capital requirements,” added Tenev. “From our point of view, Citadel and other market makers weren’t involved.”

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