The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued an official statement on the tumult of the past week in the public stock market. It’s a relatively brief statement and doesn’t mention any of the key players by name (aka GameStop, Reddit, Robinhood and others), but it does acknowledge that “extreme stock price volatility has the potential to expose investors to rapid and severe losses” that could “undermine market confidence,” and basically says the commission is watching closely to ensure that it doesn’t.
The SEC statement does specify that it believes the “core market infrastructure” remains intact despite the heavy trading volumes of the past week, which were prompted primarily by activity organized by retail investors acting in concert through organization on r/WallStreetBets, a subreddit dedicated to day trading. These retail investors resolved to collectively purchase and hold GME stocks (and subsequently, shares in other companies like movie theater chain AMC) in a bid to sweat out hedge funds with significant short positions in the same.
The ensuing high volume of trading activity from individual retail investors led to various actions from platforms that provide free trading to these individuals, including Robinhood, Webull, Public and M1. Robinhood initially cited “protecting” its users as the reason for limits imposed, but later revealed that a lack of funding to cover trade clearances likely caused the temporary measures, since it tapped $500 million to $600 million in credit facility and raised $1 billion in funding overnight.
The SEC’s statement includes a callout that seems specifically directed at entities like Robinhood, and it’s fair to interpret it as a warning:
In addition, we will act to protect retail investors when the facts demonstrate abusive or manipulative trading activity that is prohibited by the federal securities laws. Market participants should be careful to avoid such activity. Likewise, issuers must ensure compliance with the federal securities laws for any contemplated offers or sales of their own securities.
Robinhood has already had run-ins with the financial regulator for unrelated business practices. Meanwhile, lawmakers from both the House and the Senate, as well as NY AG Letitia James have all expressed their intent to review the event and all surrounding activities, which likely involves the role trading platforms like Robinhood played in the week’s events.