The current day trading boom will end as these frenzies always do: in tears. While we wait for the inevitable crash, let’s review not only why day traders are doomed but also why most people shouldn’t trade, or even invest in, individual stocks.
Day trading basically means rapidly buying and selling investments, hoping to profit from small price fluctuations. Brokerages have reported a surge in trading and new accounts this year, starting with March’s stock market crash when investors rushed in looking for bargains. As pandemic lockdowns kept people from their jobs and classrooms, trading continued to soar, especially among young adults.
The poster child for this gold rush is Robinhood, a commission-free investing app that uses behavioral nudges to encourage people to trade. Robinhood added over 3 million accounts this year and in June logged more trades than any of the established, publicly traded brokerages. More than half of its customers are opening their first investment account, the company says.
People can start trading with small amounts of money because Robinhood offers fractional shares. In addition to stocks and mutual funds, the app allows trading in options, cryptocurrencies and gold. Customers start out with a margin account, which allows them to borrow money to trade and amplify both their gains and their losses.
Alexander Kearns, 20, is one example of what can go wrong. The University of Nebraska student killed himself after seeing a $730,165 negative balance in his Robinhood account. The novice trader may have misunderstood a potential loss on part of an options trade that he made using borrowed money as a loss on the whole transaction. In reality, he had $16,000 cash in his account when he died.