Robinhood's Most Popular Stocks in 2021
2021 was a pivotal year for retail investors, but was it a lucrative one?
2021 was a pivotal year for retail investors, but I'd stop short of generalizing that it was a wholly positive one for them. Whereas last year's pandemic "dip buying" was almost universally lucrative, not everybody was a winner this year.
That might surprise some of you, especially since 2021 was the year of the "retail revolution" — investors caused a stir on Wall Street in January during a campaign of market volatility, which was the result of retail-related activity organized in forums such as r/wallstreetbets, Twitter, and Stocktwits. And yes, many retail-popular names performed strongly... until they didn't.
There's lots of different ways you can reflect on retail's success (or lack thereof) in 2021. However, one of my favorite metrics is the Top 100 stocks on Robinhood. In 2020, I spent a fair few months laboring over user holdings data from the Robinhood API and writing a newsletter about findings in a newsletter for Robintrack.net. Robinhood ultimately pulled the plug on its publicly-accessible API, but I still toil away on Robinhood's very own Top 100 stocks list in search of insights (and new names.)
In the (post-Robintrack) 2020 edition of the Top 100 list, I assessed that an index of the top 100 stocks on the platform would have doubled in 2020. Many of the stocks in the list posted high double-digit returns. This year, as you'd imagine, there's a handful of new names on the Top 100 list (which obviously implies that some names have dropped off.) However, in the spirit of keeping track of them all, I've began maintaining a rolling list of the Top 100 stocks. It's bound not to be perfect, since it's a labor of love and mostly done manually, but my hope is that it will be valuable to you. (You're welcome to respectfully point out any problems or mistakes to me in the comments.)
Here’s some conclusions from this year’s edition of the Top 100 list:
There were 27 new names on the Top 100 list in 2021. From what I could ascertain, five were SPACs and four were IPOs.
The five SPACs were $DWAC (pending merger with Trump's Truth Social), $LCID (formerly Churchill Capital IV), $CHPT (formerly Switchback Energy), $CLOV, and $SOFI (formerly Chamath's IPO-series SPACs.) The four IPOs were $RBLX, $RIVN, $COIN, and $HOOD.
Some of the names that made the shortlist included stocks which endured a fairly paltry 2020. The best-performing of the Top 100 stocks was AMC Entertainment, which rose over 1250% in 2021. It was down 71% in 2020. Among other strong names with poor 2020 performances were $GSAT (-41.4% in 2020), $NAKD (-88.5% in 2020), and $BB (+1.69% in 2020.)
And notably, the new inclusions featured three ETFs — $SPY, $QQQ, and $ARKK. It's a sign that Robinhood investors are increasingly putting their money on autopilot, embracing a mix of passive, active, and self-managed trading strategies.
Joni Mitchell once famously sang, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got 'til it's gone?" As it turns out, we definitely know a few names that dropped from the list this year.
Among the highest-performing former members of the list were oil plays — $UCO (+147% in 2021), $GUSH (+126%), and $USO (+67%). Users probably sold on the up-and-up, but oil is still looking like a hot spot for market activity.
A number of financial stocks also fell out of vogue with retail investors, such as $WFC (+62% in 2021), $APR (+38%), $MFA (+21%). $BRK.B (+30%) and $RKT (-30%), while not traditionally thought of as financials, also fell off.
EV & battery names also didn't fare too kindly, which can be partially blamed on underperformance in growth stocks. Given strong 2020 returns in stocks such as $BLNK (-29% in 2021) and $SOLO (-65% in 2021), their 2021 underperformance was not all that surprising.
There were also two acquisitions of note, which fell off the list. They were Fitbit (acquired by Google) and Slack (acquired by Salesforce.)
Given these picks, Robinhood investors' appetite for risk has not changed all that much in a year. That's unsurprising, but that means that Robinhood users likely struggled in the last few weeks as stocks briefly regressed given concerns about the macro situation (Omicron, Fed decision, etc.)
The percentage of all stocks above their 200DMA fell to the low-30s in recent weeks (pictured below in orange), but more than half of the names in the S&P 500 (pictured in blue) stayed above their 200DMA over the same period.
The regression from strong performance, especially in growth names, is observable in past and present members of the Top 100 list. 82/130 of the names underperformed both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq. To make matters worse, 50 of the 130 names — which tracks both past and present stocks in the "Top 100" category of Robinhood — traded in the negative this year.
So what can be said about retail traders?
Whereas 2020 was an almost universally great year for dip-buyers and investors, 2021 was more ambiguous. Sure, the market's robust recovery afforded millions of people an early retirement and many people appreciated a boost in their 401(K) and IRA accounts. However, the economy is not the stock market — so I'm inclined to point out that a lot of people missed out on this wealth creation.
Ultimately though, this is about the Robinhood crowd (and by proxy, retail investors.) And the disparity between retail popular stocks and the old-fashioned index plays makes it hard to garner if the retail crowd that is self-directing their investments was able to maintain its 2020 momentum.
While I did not hesitate to represent last year's performance as a huge win for the Robinhood crowd, I'm more hesitant this year given the wide difference in performance across different "genres" of stocks.
Given how 2022 is shaping up, I think it's fairly likely that these headwinds will only increase. Easy money will soon be harder to come by. And in truth, it's anyone's best guess how the market will treat investors this year.