Wednesday, November 6, 2019

People are exploiting the Robinhood investment app like any other video game

From Matt Levine's newsletter (which goes into much more detail about the exploit):

It makes an app that you can download to your phone, and then you can play a game on the app. As with many mobile games, there are in-app purchases, and you can end up spending a lot of money on the Robinhood game. The game is of course a stock-trading game. The purchases are stocks. You win by getting a lot of money. But there are other ways to play. Some people aren’t interested in playing the game as its designers intended. They want to hack the game, to find weird glitches and exploits, to take the game apart and build their own weird levels, to stream the resulting monstrosities to entertain their friends.

Many, many, many of my readers have emailed and tweeted about a Robinhood exploit that goes by the charming and accurate name “infinite leverage.” Here’s a Reddit user called ControlTheNarrative who claims to have gotten 25x leverage on his trading; that is, he put in $2,000 and turned it into about $50,000 worth of stock. Here’s another Reddit user called MoonYachts who claims to have gotten 250x leverage, putting in $4,000 and turning it into a $1,000,000 stock position. You are not supposed to be able to do this; normal stock market games do not allow you to bet a million dollars by putting up only $4,000 of your own. (“We’re aware of the isolated situations and communicating directly with customers,” said a Robinhood spokesperson.)

These people are posting screenshots and videos of their exploits. They are discussing ways to use the exploit for further, even more outrageous pranks. I do not exactly know what they are thinking. Presumably some part of what they are thinking is along the lines of “if I use $4,000 to buy a million dollars’ worth of stock and it goes up then I will make a lot of money.” But surely another big part of what they are thinking is “if I use $4,000 to buy a million dollars’ worth of stock then my friends on Reddit will be amused.” Judging by the Reddit threads, and by my email inbox, this was a correct analysis. I suppose it is not a conventional financial analysis, but you should not underestimate the importance, in trading generally, of impressing people with your wit and boldness.