Munger Calls Out Robinhood, Other Brokers for ‘Dirty’ Money
Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, reviews notes before a shareholder meeting in Los Angeles, on Feb. 14, 2019. (Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

Munger Calls Out Robinhood, Other Brokers for ‘Dirty’ Money

Charlie Munger, the long-time business partner of Warren Buffett, said Robinhood Markets and other brokerages that attract inexperienced retail investors are essentially offering “gambling services” and have found a “dirty way” to make money.

“I think you should try and make your money in this world by selling other people things that are good for them, and if you’re selling them gambling services -- where you make profits off the top, like many of these new brokers who specialize in luring the gamblers in -- I think it’s a dirty way to make money, and I think that we’re crazy to allow it,” Munger, 97, said Wednesday at the annual meeting of Daily Journal Corp., where he is chairman.

The commentary overlooks the cultural shift taking place among investors today, Robinhood spokeswoman Jacqueline Ortiz Ramsay said in an e-mailed statement.

“To suggest that new investors have a mindset of racetrack bettors is disappointing and elitist,” Ramsay said. “It should be celebrated that we are seeing market investors begin to diversify, and that education and awareness about the values of investing are diffusing further into previously untapped generations.”

Robinhood has faced criticism by lawmakers and the public since last month’s surge in trading of certain stocks, driven by retail investors. The broker’s stated mission is to “democratize finance for all” by giving users an easy way to invest in public markets and helping to eradicate trading fees. Millions of people, many of them young, have flocked to the company’s platform in recent years.

The company was created to help people invest in the stock market even if they don’t have access to generational wealth or the resources that come with it, Ramsay added.

Munger took aim at trends including the Reddit-induced boom in stocks such as GameStop Corp. and the growth in SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies, which he called a sign of an “irritating bubble.” He warned that this must end badly, but he’s not sure when.

“It’s most egregious in the momentum trading by novice investors lured in by new types of brokerage operations like Robinhood,” Munger said. “I think all of this activity is regrettable. I think civilization would do better without it.”

Munger called “commission-free” trading one of the most “disgusting” lies being perpetuated by the investing world.

“Robinhood trades are not free,” Munger said. “When you pay for order flow, you’re probably charging your customers more and pretending to be free. It’s a very dishonorable, low-grade way to talk. And nobody should believe that Robinhood’s trades are free.”

Munger, a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. vice chairman, has been at Buffett’s side for decades as they used corporate acquisitions and stock purchases to build the conglomerate into a behemoth valued at more than $580 billion.

He’s also helped build the Daily Journal’s stock portfolio, which currently holds bets on companies including Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. That company’s Wells Fargo holding has remained relatively stable and ended 2020 valued at $48 million, while Berkshire has been deeply slashing its stake in the lender. When questioned about that contrast, Munger cited different tax considerations and said there’s no need for Daily Journal and Berkshire to be aligned on everything.

“There’s no question that Wells Fargo has disappointed long-term investors like Berkshire,” Munger said. “You can understand why Buffett got disenchanted with Wells Fargo. I think I’m a little more lenient. I expect less out of bankers than he does.”

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