'Yolo' generation of investors ready for anything, even a crash

There's also the fact that young traders are some of the most eager proponents of soaring "meme stocks". PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Wall Street has been a booming place over the past 1½ years even as the wider United States economy has suffered - a trend that an entire generation of young investors has both noticed, and cashed in on.

Known as the Yolo generation - after the saying "you only live once" - the good fortune these new entrants to stock trading have had is sometimes viewed with scepticism by older investors who have seen the market boom and bust in the past.

There's also the fact that young traders are some of the most eager proponents of soaring "meme stocks" like GameStop and AMC.

Outsiders may dismiss investors under the age of 35 as dangerously optimistic, but they generally see themselves as better informed than their elders and ready for anything - even a crash.

Most are too young to have seen their portfolios sunk by the dot-com bubble's bursting in 2000, or perhaps even the 2008 financial crisis.

The market's swoon in the spring of 2020, which lasted only about three months during the worst Covid-19 shutdowns, did not really register as a crisis.

In June, a survey showed 72 per cent of investors under the age of 34 felt confident in their portfolio decisions, according to E-Trade.

"For their entire adult life, the market has gone up," marketing professor Scott Galloway said in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, adding that many seem to believe this will continue.

Dr Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado and co-director of the Centre for Research on Consumer Financial Decision Making, warned that many young investors may be getting ahead of themselves.

"Overconfidence can lead us to take on too much leverage," he told AFP, adding that there could "potentially be a wake-up call... down the line if the market has a sustained decline."

Some 80 per cent of investors born in the late 1990s and after are willing to take on debt to invest, according to an April poll from MagnifyMoney.

"People are trying to get rich overnight on a low probability bet, which is exactly what gambling is," Prof Fernback said. "That's a huge part of what's going on here."

Underestimating risk?

But Mr Jonathan Royere, a 25-year-old programmer, considers this view of today's young investors an inaccurate stereotype.

"When they see Yolos and everything, that's what draws attention," he said. "That's not what most people do.

"It would just be like, oh, you see (that) Instagram model doing something stupid online, and you think all women act like that on Instagram? Well, that's not true."

Mr Royere maintains that many young investors are clued in to the mores of the market, understanding that "2008 is not over", he said.

"I think the education part is what makes this different," he said.

Mr Ryan Scribner, a personal finance and investor personality who has 738,000 subscribers on Youtube, says his generation "has just really figured out how to collectively research together and share information in the forums".

Far from cocky, many are circumspect about the market's prospects and quick to recognise how central bank manoeuverings have juiced recent gains.

"There's a broad understanding that equity performance had been driven by Fed policy," said Mr Evan Domingos, a 21-year-old undergraduate at Wheaton College who trades equities.

Mr Royere maintains that the "younger generation is more prepared for a market crash than the older ones", noting that his cohort sees the Federal Reserve's influence and knows "the music will stop".

Mr Scribner, for his part, has organised his portfolio with an eye towards a possible crash, giving priority to lesser-known names.

Mr Domingos also thinks his generation will probably adapt to market shifts.

"It's not entirely proven if newer traders will be able to shift gears with the market but adaptability shown by retail traders with market volatility and down cycles such as during the 2018 US-China trade (conflict) and the Covid-19 pandemic would suggest so much," Mr Domingos said.

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