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Technology Stocks : Fintech

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From: Glenn Petersen7/1/2021 10:12:33 PM
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Robinhood Spreads the Wealth and Takes a Risk

The retail broker can live up to its ethos of democratizing finance by selling its customers its IPO, but the move is a gamble if the shares perform poorly or if it faces technical snafus

By Telis Demos
Wall Street Journal
July 1, 2021 7:10 pm ET

Investors big and small will be best served by staying focused on Robinhood’s underlying economics. PHOTO: GABBY JONES/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Robinhood Markets is going public and bringing some friends along for the ride.

The red-hot online brokerage filed paperwork Thursday for its long-anticipated initial public offering. It revealed that it may reserve approximately 20% to 35% of its offering for its own customers. For investors who are trying to evaluate this deal, it is hard to figure what that means regarding how Robinhood’s shares might trade.

If Robinhood is able to price its shares at a strong valuation and see them “pop” after they begin trading, such an occurrence could bolster the company’s argument that it is a democratizing force in markets—that letting retail into the IPO club is good for both issuers and small investors. It also would be an advertisement for the business itself—particularly Robinhood’s nascent IPO Access platform, through which it will offer the shares.

On the other hand, a messy IPO that prices poorly and fails to deliver a pop could, fairly or not, reinforce skeptics’ view that small investors are fickle, or that Robinhood isn’t ultimately on the little guy’s side.

History has many examples of the various outcomes involved in IPOs with customer set-asides. Sometimes there are technical issues. Many in the IPO business still remember the 2006 debut of the telecom firm Vonage, whose customer stock allocation was marred by complaints about the process. As far as how shares ultimately perform in early trading, there are examples on both sides recently. Uber Technologies set aside shares for some of its drivers, and its IPO dipped in first-day trading. Airbnb, however, set aside shares for hosts and saw its stock skyrocket and more than double when it opened for trading.

Companies and their bankers to some degree can try to affect the likelihood of a pop by aiming to price below what they know many investors are willing to pay. Of course, that means the company itself could leave more “money on the table” that it could have raised in the deal, and it isn’t clear yet how much money Robinhood might be seeking to raise in the IPO. Pricing science might even be a moot point at first given retail traders’ recent abandonment of fundamental valuation measures with the “meme stocks.”

Longer term, this all likely means quite little. Facebook allocated about a quarter of its IPO to retail investors, and its shares fell early on. The stock is now worth more than nine times the offering price. Ultimately, then, perhaps a stock’s debut performance is more about valuation and market conditions than about allocation strategy.

Investors big and small will be best served by staying focused on Robinhood’s underlying economics, even in the midst of all the hoopla. The numbers are the only friend you need.

Write to Telis Demos at

Robinhood Spreads the Wealth and Takes a Risk - WSJ
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