The last economic crisis struck as many millennials were graduating from college. This time, it came as many were starting retirement funds and stock portfolios. But now the cohort is older and wiser, and some are doubling down on investing even amid the coronavirus outbreak.
"Millennials are engaged, signing on, and trading," said Frank Lietke, senior director of Ally Invest, a digital trading platform that caters to millennials.
The segment's trading activity on the platform increased 12 percent since last year, and they're also buying over selling more than other demographics. Millennials made up 70 percent of equity trades that were buys as opposed to sells over the past 30 days. That's compared to 65 percent before the volatility set in, according to Ally Invest.
"Millennials are a bigger share of the pie in terms of total accounts," Lietke said. "It tells us strategically that we have to make sure we're caring for the wants and needs of that generational segment."
Apex Clearing, a trading and investing technology provider, analyzed the top 100 stocks owned by 960,000 investors with an average age of 31 and found that top holdings were largely unchanged from the last quarter, perhaps an indicator that millennials are sticking it out in the markets.
“Despite the intimidating market swings over the past quarter, millennials continue to show an incredible amount of faith in the stocks that have been a key part of their investment strategy since we began this analysis,” Apex Clearing CEO Bill Capuzzi said in a statement.
That survey also found that millennials were more active in their trading during the coronavirus outbreak. The number of trades in millennial accounts jumped 55.5 percent month over month, compared to 31.7 percent in a boomer account.
Ally Invest said its overall trading volume was up roughly 300 percent since last year. Robinhood, another trading app marketed to millennials, reported a 300 percent increase in trading in the last few months as well, with a strong focus among millennials on beat-up stocks such as the cruise line Carnival Corp., Disney, American Airlines, and Boeing.
While some millennial investors seem to be buying the dip — despite conventional wisdom that a more conservative approach is best for casual investors during times of volatility — others are settling on safer products that require less involvement, such as exchange-traded funds.
"I think ETFs have taken the main stage and had more popularity in recent years because they're low-cost," Lietke said. "They give ease and convenience."
ETFs made up 29 percent of trades for millennials at Ally Invest, compared to 20 percent for non-millennials. For comparison, millennials bought fewer options at 21 percent of trades in the first quarter, compared to non-millennials at 25 percent.
"Options are typically more involved," Lietke said. "There's more knowledge and risk inherently baked into options trading, and we don't see millennials engaging in that."
For many younger investors, however, this is the first downturn since they bought into the stock market, and a certain amount of nerves are inevitable.
"It's been really hard to watch how that panic plays out," said Erin Lowry, a millennial investor and author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together who speaks with young investors regularly. "The biggest thing that I've been working on is calming those nerves."
Lowry's approach has been to provide extra context and explain the longer history of the stock market's upswings and downturns.
"The big thing you need to do is essentially hang on and to not sell everything because then you have to make decisions like when do you sell, what do you do with the money in the meantime, and when do you get back in," she said.
Those who bailed out in 2008 and didn't reinvest until later, she added, missed out on the beginning of what would become the longest bull-run in the history of the stock market.
Lowry is also stressing to millennials, who may have been furloughed, laid off, or had their hours reduced due to coronavirus, to prioritize their immediate costs above their portfolios.
"The number one assessment that needs to be made right isn't so much about investing but are you okay in the other areas of your financial life," she said.
Lietke referred to millennials who are struggling amid coronavirus as "edge cases" and noted that "the overwhelming majority of folks are viewing this, and even a potential recession, as an opportunity."
Indeed, the generational experience of millennials has been to witness the stock market rise from the ashes of the Great Recession, but whether they think this same turnaround plays out again depends, as always, on a certain amount of faith.
"I believe our generation has proven itself time and time again to be innovative, to be creative, to figure out how to make things work when dealt a bad hand," Lowry said. "So I tend to think we're going to come out of this not only okay but figure out how to make something better."