Shares of the investing app Robinhood begin trading on Thursday, after a highly anticipated initial public offering priced at $38 a share. That was at the low end of the range bankers set for the deal, adding extra intrigue to the company’s first day of trading. Even so, Robinhood’s I.P.O. raised $1.9 billion from investors, valuing the eight-year-old firm at nearly $32 billion.
Is Robinhood really worth that much?
The numbers tell only part of the story. Robinhood has 22.5 million accounts, but they are far smaller, $4,500 on average, than that of its rival Charles Schwab, with an average balance of $200,000. Not captured in those numbers is that Robinhood’s customers are an average age of 31, far younger than rival brokers’ typical clientele. If Robinhood can retain its young customers through to retirement, or better yet convert them into credit card or banking customers, as Robinhood says it wants to, those accounts could be worth a lot more over time.
“Robinhood has something no one else has: 22.5 million youngsters,” said Thomas Peterffy, who founded Interactive Brokers in the 1970s. “That’s huge.”
But institutional investors are wary, and many sat out of the I.P.O. The DealBook newsletter spoke with investment firms big and small, and a common view is that $32 billion is high, especially considering Robinhood still faces various investigations and lawsuits tied to its business model that, because it charges no commissions, attracts inexperienced traders and, some say, encourages them to take huge risks in the market.
“There are a lot of red flags,” said David Erickson, who used to run equity underwriting at Barclays and now teaches at Wharton. “This is as far from a ‘must own’ for most big institutional investors as you can get.”
But leaving Wall Street befuddled is part of Robinhood’s story. The app is a disrupter that pledges to democratize finance. As part of its I.P.O., Robinhood sold as much as a third of the shares directly to its customers through its app, upending the traditional process. Whether these investors hold onto, buy more or quickly dump the stock is the biggest question when it opens for trading.
Hordes of retail investors banded together on Robinhood to stoke the meme-stock frenzy, turning the app into the stock market’s equivalent of David’s slingshot. Many of those same investors who piled into GameStop, AMC and others will ultimately decide whether Robinhood’s own stock will strike another perceived blow for the proverbial little guy.
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