May 6, 2020 - Economy

The coronavirus-driven gold rush

Illustration of a gold smartphone

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Having been conditioned for years by financial pundits to see the next recession as their opportunity to get rich after largely missing out on 11 years of a surging bull market, young people are viewing the coronavirus-driven stock market crash as their golden ticket.

What's happening: Thanks to zero fees, easy access afforded by the internet, and an unexpected glut of free time on their hands, millennials and Gen Zers are opening online brokerage accounts at a record pace.

  • Finance apps have seen a 55% growth in usage time from the end of 2019 to the week ended April 18, according to new data from App Annie.
  • TD Ameritrade reported a record 608,000 new funded accounts in the first quarter and more than three times the number of users in March compared to March 2019.
  • Brokerages like Schwab, Fidelity and E*Trade also reported record new users.

"The way we can see that a lot of these people are newer to investing is because they are accessing our educational resources at a rate that is three to four times what we’d normally see," Steven Quirk, EVP of trading and education at TD Ameritrade, tells Axios.

  • "And the courses they’re accessing are explainer video series about investing principles, investing basics, 'How do I buy a stock?'"
  • "Our investing courses are laid out as a journey and a lot of them are hitting the ones that are the first part of the journey."

Driving the news: Despite two separate embarrassing outages on critical trading days this year that could have sunk its business, millennial-focused trading app Robinhood has seen its valuation rise to $8.3 billion, while investing platform Stash got a new $112 million infusion that took its valuation to $800 million.

Yes, but: In their thirst for a piece of the expected market rebound, these new investors may be ignoring the economic reality of the moment.

  • The Fed, IMF and an army of the world's foremost economists predict the recession will be long lasting and many companies are expected to go bankrupt or dissolve entirely over the next year.

The last word: Those who have used their new accounts to buy the dip since late March have done quite well.

  • But if equity prices don't continue to defy gravity, the downturn could destroy already fragile savings gains for millennials who have largely been priced out of home ownership and are just starting to build wealth, wreaking further havoc on the broader economy.

Go deeper: How the stock market can lie to you

Editor’s note: This piece was corrected to take out a reference to Robinhood as partnering in a survey from App Annie, which representatives for App Annie had misstated.

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