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Robinhood files confidentially for IPO despite disastrous start to 2021

Noam Galai

Robinhood filed confidentially for an IPO on Monday, a person familiar with the matter told CNN Business, a development that shows the trading startup is forging ahead despite a recent series of public-relations nightmares.

The filing, which Robinhood confirmed in a brief statement Tuesday afternoon, demonstrates how confident the company is in its growth prospects even after a disastrous few months that featured its CEO getting hauled before Congress and Michael Bolton appearing in a viral video about the platform’s controversial business model.

The confidential IPO filing suggests that Robinhood plans to capitalize on the flurry of retail trading that the startup helped set off with its zero-commission business model.

Robinhood has selected Nasdaq to list its shares on, a separate source familiar with the matter told CNN Business. News of the confidential IPO filing was first reported by Bloomberg News.

A Robinhood spokesperson declined to comment.

Other prominent startups, including Airbnb, Lyft, Slack and Palantir, filed confidentially to go public. That route route allows companies to privately file a registration statement, known as an S-1, with the SEC for review — without divulging their financial details for now.

Eventually, Robinhood will be required to release those numbers so investors can evaluate the company’s growth trajectory and key risks. It will be at least several months before the S-1 filing is made public, one of the sources told CNN Business.

GameStop saga set off cash crunch

Robinhood set off a firestorm in January when it temporarily banned users from buying shares of GameStop and other stocks driven up by an army of traders on Reddit. Robinhood blamed the controversial restrictions on a demand from its clearinghouse to put up as much as $3 billion due to the market volatility.

Robinhood was forced to rapidly draw down its credit lines and swiftly raise $3.4 billion, underscoring the apparent liquidity crisis facing the startup.

The episode raised questions about Robinhood’s business model and management team and tested the brand’s loyalty among users.

Robinhood was also sued earlier this year by the family of a 20-year-old trader who died by suicide after he saw a negative balance of $730,000 in his trading account and mistakenly believed that was the sum of money he owed. The tragedy drew attention to the gamified nature of the Robinhood platform and the startup’s customer service shortfalls.

Red-hot markets

Under normal times, Robinhood’s stumbles might doom an IPO, raising questions about whether the company is ready for the limelight. But these aren’t normal times.

Rock-bottom interest rates, combined with a surging interest from retail investors and optimism about the economic recovery, have set off a boom in financial markets. US stocks are trading near record highs, valuations are lofty and signs of market froth abound.

Investors are pouring money into blank-check companies known as SPACs, a trend that has recently been backed by professional athletes and other celebrities. Traditional IPOs are also very hot.

US-listed traditional IPOs have raised $34.9 billion so far in 2021, nearly five times what they raised through the same period last year, according to Dealogic stats as of March 19. That’s the highest for this point of any year since 1995.

Over the past six months major companies including Coupang, Bumble, Snowflake, Airbnb and DoorDash all have skyrocketed in their first day of trading.

The average first-day pop for US-listed IPOs is 44%, the highest since the dotcom bubble in 2000, according to Dealogic.

A key question for investors scrutinizing Robinhood’s books will be how its explosive user growth was impacted — if at all — by the GameStop saga.

Despite the controversy, January was a near record month for Robinhood app downloads, according to a late January report by JMP Securities.

This is a developing story.

Article Topic Follows: Money

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