Buyer Beware

One unintended consequence of COVID-19’s impact on financial markets has been the influx of new retail investors. Online brokerages, such as Robinhood, provide a platform where almost anyone can deploy capital into public markets, regardless of their experience or financial means. While the goal of platforms like Robinhood is to “democratize” investing, the ease of access combined with the ability to use margin debt and option contracts has led to some peculiar price action in markets, such as companies’ equity values rising after declaring bankruptcy (e.g., Hertz) or parabolic moves for popular story stocks (e.g., Tesla). A recent article by writer Emily Stewart outlines this affair and provides firsthand accounts from newbie investors/traders. Renowned asset managers have expressed their concerns, warning inexperienced peers of the dangers of emotional, impromptu investment decisions. On the opposite side of the ledger are popular social media personalities, such as Dave Portnoy, appearing to realize gains through investing without any process. Active stock picking strategies rarely outperform broad market indices over the long term, despite what may appear as short periods of outperformance. We would assert that getting young people interested in investing and allowing them access to financial markets is a good thing; however, do the costs of doing so outweigh the benefits? The aspects of the software that capitalize on gambling-like aesthetics and reinforce behaviour that leads to sub-optimal outcomes might not be in the best interest of investors over the long-run. As the title says, buyer beware.