Retail trading app Robinhood makes its Wall Street debut on the Nasdaq

guvendemir/iStock

(NEW YORK) — Investing platform Robinhood officially became a publicly-listed company Thursday, making its Wall Street debut on the Nasdaq under the trading ticker $HOOD.

Robinhood co-founders Vlad Tenev (the current chief executive officer) and Baiju Bhatt (the chief creative officer) rang the Nasdaq’s opening bell in Times Square on Thursday morning, surrounded by colleagues and family members. Tenev carried his young daughter on his hip as his company made its initial public offering.

Trading opened to the public at $38 per share, giving it a valuation of some $32 billion. By mid-day the stock fell slightly, trading at around $35 per share.

Robinhood exploded in popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic as swaths of retail investors turned to its commission-free trading services. It became embroiled in controversy amid the GameStop short-squeeze, when an army of retail investors attempted to take on Wall Street firms that were betting against the video game retailer.

As individual investors pushed the price of GameStop shares up, Robinhood and other trading platforms abruptly halted trading of the stock — leading to allegations they were doing so at the urging of hedge funds and short sellers. The company has denied this, saying the temporary halt was due to clearinghouse-mandated deposit requirements that skyrocketed amid the volatility.

Still, Robinhood’s Tenev was called to testify before lawmakers and the fallout of the GameStop saga left Wall Street reeling for months.

Robinhood has repeatedly said its mission is to “democratize finance for all.” The firm on Thursday celebrated what it saw as bringing its Main Street clientele to Wall Street via its Nasdaq listing. Some 50% of Robinhood users are first-time investors.

“The U.S. stock market is one of the world’s greatest sources of wealth creation. But for generations, it was out of reach for most people,” Tenev and Bhatt said in a joint statement Thursday celebrating the IPO. “Robinhood changed that — we’ve built investing products for everyday people, to put them in control of their financial futures.”

“Our listing day is a celebration of our customers — Generation Robinhood,” the statement added. “Through Robinhood, millions of everyday people have started investing in the stock market for the first time.”

Tenev and Bhatt said these new everyday investors are “making their voices heard through the markets, transforming our financial system in the process.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Trevor Milton, founder of electric truck startup Nikola, hit with securities fraud charges

iStock/RapidEye

(NEW YORK) — Trevor Milton, the billionaire founder of electric truck manufacturer Nikola, was hit with securities fraud charges from federal prosecutors in New York City on Thursday.

In a nearly 50-page indictment, prosecutors accused Milton of preying on vulnerable retail investors who had turned to trading after losing income due to the pandemic. In some cases, these victims lost their retirement savings, authorities said, as they outlined his web of false promises related to an electric truck that was never operable.

“Milton’s scheme targeted individual, non-professional investors — so-called retail investors — by making false and misleading statements,” the indictment said.

Milton is in custody and due to appear later Thursday.

Authorities had been investigating Milton and Nikola for more than a year after short seller Hindenburg Research called the firm an “intricate fraud” in a September report.

The company subsequently conceded video of its electric truck gave a misleading impression it was actually drivable. The company also said Milton had made inaccurate statements about the technology behind the vehicle. Federal prosecutors agreed.

The false promotional video for the semi-truck prototype known as Nikola One was referenced heavily in the indictment. The concept included a shot of the Nikola One coming to a stop in front of a stop sign, according to the indictment.

“In order to accomplish this feat with a vehicle that could not drive, the Nikola One was towed to the top of hill, at which point the ‘driver’ released the brakes, and the truck rolled down the hill until being brought to a stop in front of the stop sign,” prosecutors wrote. “For additional takes, the truck was towed to the top of the hill and rolled down the hill twice more.”

Moreover, the door had to be taped to the vehicle during the shoot “to prevent it from falling off,” prosecutors wrote. Batteries were also entirely removed from the vehicle during the shoot, which was attended by Milton. According to prosecutors, this was to “mitigate the risk of fire, explosion, or damage.”

Phoenix-based Nikola planned to build battery- and hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered heavy trucks for long-haul trucking and the company had been valued at more than $12 billion dollars. The doubts raised by short sellers and regulators have tanked the stock price and scuttled a deal with General Motors to take a stake in the company.

Prosecutors said Milton lied at every turn about the company’s ability to produce its electric truck.

According to the indictment, Milton made false and misleading statements about the company’s success in creating a fully-functioning Nikola One prototype when he knew that the prototype was inoperable. He also made false statements about an electric and hydrogen powered pickup truck known as the Badger using Nikola’s parts and technology when he knew that was not true, the indictment claimed.

“Among the retail investors who ultimately invested in Nikola were investors who had no prior experience in the stock market and had begun trading during the COVID-19 pandemic to replace or supplement lost income or to occupy their time while in lockdown,” prosecutors wrote.

When it emerged that Milton’s statements were false and misleading, the value of Nikola’s stock plummeted.

“As a result, some of the retail investors that Milton’s fraudulent scheme targeted suffered tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses, including, in certain cases, the loss of their retirement savings or funds that they had borrowed to invest in Nikola,” the indictment added.
 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Rocket Lab launches US Space Force experimental satellite

Rocket Lab

(NEW YORK) — Rocket Lab successfully launched an experimental satellite for the United States Space Force on Thursday morning.

The California-based aerospace company returned its Electron rocket to flight from its space launch facility on New Zealand’s Mahia peninsula.

About an hour after a successful liftoff at 2 a.m. ET, the rocket deployed a small research and development satellite, called Monolith, into a 600-kilometer low-Earth orbit.

Monolith, sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, will “explore and demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor, where the sensor’s mass is a substantial fraction of the total mass of the spacecraft, changing the spacecraft’s dynamic properties and testing ability to maintain spacecraft attitude control,” according to Rocket Lab.

“Analysis from the use of a deployable sensor aims to enable the use of smaller satellite buses when building future deployable sensors such as weather satellites, thereby reducing the cost, complexity, and development timelines,” the company said in a statement. “The satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities.”

The launch was procured by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Test Program and the U.S. Space Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program, both located at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. The mission was named “It’s a Little Chile Up Here” in a nod to New Mexico’s beloved green chile, according to Rocket Lab.

The U.S. Space Force is the newest and smallest branch of the American military, set up in 2019 under former President Donald Trump.

Thursday’s launch was the fourth of the year for Rocket Lab and the 21st involving Electron. It was also the first Electron launch since a failed mission on May 15, in which the rocket was supposed to deploy two Earth-observation satellites for global monitoring firm BlackSky but “experienced an anomaly shortly before stage two ignition,” Rocket Lab later said in a statement.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Walt Disney World, Disneyland requiring masks indoors again for guests

Manakin/iStock

(NEW YORK) — Disney Parks has updated its mask policy for all visitors regardless of vaccine status after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its mask guidance following the surge in COVID infections.

The high-traffic theme parks in Florida and California announced late Wednesday that beginning Friday, July 30, all guests are required to keep masks on while indoors, including when entering all attractions and in Disney buses, monorail and Disney Skyliner.

“We are adapting our health and safety guidelines based on guidance from health and government officials, and will require Cast Members and Guests ages 2 and up, to wear face coverings in all indoor locations at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort,” Disney Parks said in a statement.

The news comes days after the CDC’s call for a return to masks in public, indoor settings due to the transmissibility of the fast-spreading delta variant.

The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of ABC News

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

‘Made in America’ company creates fashionable bags out of recycled sails

MCCAIG/iStock

(PORTLAND, Maine) — One company is taking used sails from sailboats and creating something totally brand new: summer tote bags.

Sea Bags, founded in Portland, Maine, makes unique tote bags out of locally recycled materials. Since 1999, the company says it has saved over 700 tons of material from going into landfills.

“Our materials come from Maine first; New England, second; and [the] U.S.A, third,” it says on the company’s website.

Located right on the water on Custom House Wharf in Portland, Sea Bags employs 200 workers.

Employee Dillon Leary, who has been working for Sea Bags since high school, said he’s proud of his role in producing the bags.

“We get to see the process from the very beginning,” said Leary, “Out of the thousands of pounds of sails that we’re taking per year, every single one of those starts in this building.”

Timeiqua Nixon, who has been a part of the design team for over six years, said that pride goes into each product.

“Everything is handmade. So I love that we just do it ourselves,” she said. “Which is, we’re the main source for it. We don’t have to outsource anything.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Target, Staples, Barnes & Noble And More Offer Back-To-School Discounts For Teachers

Iryna Veklich/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — As the end of summer approaches, teachers are already preparing for the school year ahead, which is happening again this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help teachers, select retailers are offering special back-to-school deals and discounts. Here are some of the retailers offering special deals now for teachers.

Target
Target is offering teachers a one-time, 15% discount on select classroom supplies and essentials now through July 31. Teachers need to sign up for Target Circle and verify their teacher status to be eligible.

All K-12 teachers, homeschool teachers, teachers working at daycare centers and early childhood learning centers, university or college professors and vocational/trade/technical school teachers are eligible, according to Target.

Staples
At Staples stores across the country, teachers and school administrators can get 20% off select purchases now through Sept. 30.

Parents can also help support teachers through Staples’ Classroom Rewards program, which gives a percentage of their qualifying purchase made at a Staples store back to an enrolled teacher or school administrator of their choice, according to the company.

To start getting discounts, parents, teachers and school administrators must download the Staples Connect app and enroll in Classroom Rewards.

Abt Electronics
Teachers who purchase $500 worth of Abt Electronics supplies are eligible for a $50 discount. This offer applies to teachers, teachers aides, teaching assistants, educational assistants, lifetime teaching credential holders, professors, speech pathologists and school administrators.

To use the discount, teachers must verify that they are eligible when they check out. Then, they will receive a promotion code to access their discount.

Meijer
Teachers can now get 15% off back-to-school supplies with a coupon at Meijer. The coupon covers 1,500 items that teachers can use in the classroom.

Michaels
Teachers are eligible year-round for a 15% discount at Michaels after verifying their profession and creating a Michaels account. The discount will apply if they provide their phone number or email at checkout online or in-person.

JOANN
By signing up for the Teacher Rewards Digital Discount Card, teachers can receive a 15% year-round discount at JOANN. To register for the card, teachers must show a valid educator identification.

Barnes & Noble
Teachers will receive 20% off qualifying book purchases at Barnes & Noble if they sign up to become a B&N Educator. The sign-up process, while free, must be done in-person at a Barnes & Noble location.

Dollar General
Dollar General is offering teachers a 30% discount on back-to-school supplies until Sept. 6. Teachers can use the discount after signing up for a Dollar General account, completing a teacher verification process and waiting 24 to 48 hours.

The discount applies to the purchase of pens, pencils, crayons, paper, notebooks, scissors, binders, folders glue, rulers, backpacks, lunch boxes and more.

Office Depot
Through Sept. 30, teachers who are Office Depot OfficeMax Rewards members are eligible for a coupon that allows them to earn 20% back in rewards when completing in-store purchases.

Teachers can also receive a 40% discount for school supplies such as classroom posters, instructional materials and name tags when completing an in-store purchase. For the discount to apply, teachers must show a valid teacher ID at checkout.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Spelman College is latest HBCU to cancel tuition balances

Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

(ATLANTA) — Spelman College announced it will use federal funding to clear outstanding tuition balances for the past academic year of to address the financial hardships of students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The historically Black college based in Atlanta, Georgia, will also offer a one-time 14% discount on tuition for the 2021-2022 academic school year and rollback mandatory fees to the 2017-2018 rate.

“This reset to the lower tuition rates of four years ago will have a long-term impact on affordability,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., president of Spelman, in a statement Tuesday.

The Spelman College financial relief comes after Clark Atlanta University, a neighboring HBCU in Atlanta, announced it would cancel outstanding tuition balances for the spring 2020 and summer 2021 semesters.

“We understand these past two academic years have been emotionally and financially difficult on students and their families due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why we will continue to do all we can to support their efforts to complete their CAU education,” Dr. George T. French, President of Clark Atlanta University, said in a statement last Friday.

For Ta’Lar Scott, a 21-year-old junior at Clark Atlanta University, having her $500 tuition balance canceled was the fresh start she needed to re-enroll to finish her undergraduate degree in social work after taking a semester off.

Like thousands of HBCU students, Scott has relied on federal grants and student loans to pay for her college education. With aspirations of becoming a teacher and now as an expectant mother, paying for school expenses in addition to re-enrollment was so daunting she considered not attending the fall semester.

“I was going to take this semester off and it was really because I knew I had a balance,” Scott told ABC News. “The university clearing my balance up kind of pushed me and let me know that I can do this. I’ll be fine. Regardless, I’ll have to learn how to adjust, which I’ve been doing all my life.”

HBCUs received approximately $2.6 billion through the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, a $40 billion funding allocation set aside for higher education as part of the American Rescue Plan.

Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College are the latest of over 20 HBCUs using federal funding to provide financial relief and emergency funds for students in recent months. South Carolina State University, Delaware State University and Wilberforce University used federal COVID relief dollars to cancel student loan debt for eligible students.

ABC News’ Jianna Cousin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Google to require employees be vaccinated before returning to offices

JHVEPhoto/iStock

(NEW YORK) — Google plans to require any employee in its offices to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to an email sent by Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai on Wednesday.

“Even as the virus continues to surge in many parts of the world,” Pichai wrote, “it’s encouraging to see very high vaccination rates for our Google community in areas where vaccines are widely available.” He cites that high vaccination rate as being a key to the company re-opening some of its offices to employees who chose to return to work already.

“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” he continued.

The requirement will be rolled out “in the coming weeks,” in the United States, and is intended to expand to other regions in the next few months. Pichai notes that implementation of the requirement “will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area.”

The CEO also saying in his email that while the company has begun to reopen campuses, Google employees who choose to work from home will be allowed to do so through at least October 18.

“We recognize that many Googlers are seeing spikes in their communities cause by the Delta variant and are concerned about returning to the office,” Pichai said.

He also noted that the company is working to develop “expanded temporary work options” for employees with “special circumstances,” which would allow those employees to work from home through the end of 2021.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Google joins growing list of employers mandating COVID-19 vaccines

JHVEPhoto/iStock

(NEW YORK) — As coronavirus cases in the U.S. begin a concerning climb upward and virus variants threaten a return to normalcy, a handful of businesses have announced COVID-19 vaccination mandates as they prepare to welcome workers back to the office.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission said employers can legally require COVID-19 vaccinations to re-enter a physical workplace, as long as they follow requirements to find alternative arrangements for employees unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons or because they have religious objections.

Still, the requirements have proven a hot button issue as business leaders mull over office reopening plans, in some cases sparking legal challenges and immense pushback from workers who refuse the shot. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that a mandate to require all federal employees to be vaccinated is now “under consideration.”

Tech giant Google announced a vaccine requirement Wednesday for those returning to its offices. The company has some 135,301 employees, according to SEC filings.

“Even as the virus continues to surge in many parts of the world,” Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in an email Wednesday, “it’s encouraging to see very high vaccination rates for our Google community in areas where vaccines are widely available.” He cites that high vaccination rate as being a key to the company re-opening some of its offices to employees who chose to return to work already.

“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” he continued.

The requirement will be rolled out “in the coming weeks,” in the United States, and is intended to expand to other regions in the next few months. Pichai notes that implementation of the requirement “will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area.”

The CEO also saying in his email that while the company has begun to reopen campuses, Google employees who choose to work from home will be allowed to do so through at least October 18.

“We recognize that many Googlers are seeing spikes in their communities cause by the Delta variant and are concerned about returning to the office,” Pichai said.

He also noted that the company is working to develop “expanded temporary work options” for employees with “special circumstances,” which would allow those employees to work from home through the end of 2021.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Walmart announces plan to pay 100% of college tuition for employees

jetcityimage/iStock

(BENTONVILLE, Ark.) — America’s largest private employer announced on Tuesday that it will pay for college tuition and books for associates, in full.

In a press release, Walmart says it will also eliminate the $1 per day fee from its Live Better U education program, which provides workers with access to training or a degree. The company says with these changes, “approximately 1.5 million part-time and full-time Walmart and Sam’s Club associates in the U.S. can earn college degrees or learn trade skills without the burden of education debt.”

Lorraine Stomski, the company’s senior vice president of learning and leadership, said the move would create “a path of opportunity for our associates to grow their careers at Walmart, so they can continue to build better lives for themselves and their families.”

The company also noted it will add four academic partners, bringing the total number of institutions it works with to ten. The new partners include Johnson & Wales University, the University of Arizona, the University of Denver, and Pathstream.

Earlier this year, Walmart announced it would raise its starting pay to $11 per hour. That move, which affected approximately 425,000 employees, brought the company’s average pay to $15 per hour.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.