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Technology

GameStop turns little-known China firm Webull into No. 2 app in US

WallStreetBets flock to online brokerage as retail investors seek Robinhood alternative

Webull Financial CEO Anthony Denier seen ringing the closing bell at the Nasdaq MarketSite in Time Square, New York, on Jan. 14.

PALO ALTO, U.S. -- Webull, a Chinese-owned trading app, became the second most popular app in the U.S. last Thursday, the day online brokerages imposed restrictions on retail investors buying GameStop, AMC Entertainment and several other volatile stocks.

Webull's app was installed about 100,000 times worldwide on Jan. 28 from the App Store and Google Play, a 270% week-over-week increase, according to data provided by market analytics firm SensorTower.

The surging of downloads led Webull to rank as high as No. 2 on Thursday among all free iPhone apps on the U.S. App Store and No. 3 among all free apps on the U.S. Google Play store, up from around 60th place the day before.

Founded by former Alibaba Group employee Wang Anquan in 2016, Webull has attracted over 620 million yuan ($96 million) in venture investment from prominent backers including Chinese tech giant Xiaomi, according to data analytics firm IT Juzi.

By Thursday, Webull's app had been installed roughly 9.3 million times worldwide since its release, making it a not-insignificant contender to Robinhood Markets, a leading stock-trading app for retail investors in the U.S. which had over 13 million users as of 2020.

Webull was ranked No.2 among all free iPhone apps on U.S. App Store on Thursday, Jan. 28. (Photo by Yifan Yu) 

Webull's particular surge of downloads on Thursday came after Robinhood halted its users' ability to buy securities including GameStop, AMC, Nokia, and other high-volatility stocks fueled by Reddit's WallStreetBets forum-led retail investors who bid up stocks that hedge funds bet will slump.

GameStop shares have rallied as much as 2,450% from their close in 2020 as small investors piled in and forced hedge funds to lose billions on their short positions.

Hedge funds got a brief reprieve after Robinhood prevented customers from purchasing more shares of companies such as GameStop on Thursday.

Robinhood's decision to restrict users' ability to trade certain stocks has drawn heavy criticism, including from U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- a prominent critic of Wall Street -- who on Thursday called it "unacceptable."

Robinhood resumed users' ability to purchase a limited amount of certain high-volatility stocks on Friday.

However, Robinhood is not the only company that has restricted users' trading of the highly volatile securities. Webull halted trades on several stocks for a few hours on Thursday before it removed the restrictions.

Webull CEO Anthony Denier said in a TV interview on Friday that it was not the company's decision to temporarily restrict the trading, but was due to concerns raised by its third-party clearing firm, which was out of its control.

"We're part of this revolution that's going on," Denier said during the interview.

Webull's quick action to lift restrictions on purchasing GameStop and other stocks has been praised by some retail investors. "Webull has taken a stance against brokerages siding with the institutions and has resumed trading of GME and AMC," reads a post on Reddit's WallStreetBets forum.

"Disclaimer: it's a Chinese company. I know that might bother some of you guys," the post continues.

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