By KARI PAUL
Bitcoin has had a wild ride. And millennials have decided to go along for it.
Bitcoin BTCUSD, -0.14% peaked in the vicinity of $20,000 per coin in 2017 but is notoriously volatile: Its price fell briefly below $6,000 in recent days, having lost more than $100 billion in valuation since last week. It ended the week closer to the $9,000 mark. Other cryptocurrencies are not faring well, either: The aggregate cryptocurrency market cap has fallen more than 50% since early January, according to CoinDesk, plunging from $830 billion to $366 billion.
But despite the unpredictable nature of cryptocurrencies, some millennials find investing in them less intimidating than putting money in the stock market or other traditional investments.
Ironically, that willingness to invest in a notoriously volatile category is linked to disillusionment with the stock market after the 2008 financial crisis, said Julia-Carolin Zeng, a spokeswoman for BitcoinSportsbooks.com. Over 82% of millennials say their investment decisions were influenced by the Great Recession when $14 trillion in wealth was lost. Many saw 50% or more wiped off their parents’ or older siblings’ wealth.
Millennials regard the stock market with skepticism
People between the ages the ages of 18 and 39 are less likely to invest money in the stock market than are other generations, studies show. Only one in three millennials is investing in the stock market, compared with 51% of people of the prior generation, Generation X, now aged between their mid-30s and early 50s, and 48% of baby boomers, a 2016 study from personal-finance site Bankrate found.
And millennials appear much more willing than other generations to invest their money in cryptocurrencies, a recent poll from Swell Investing, a California-based investment company that focuses on social-justice-oriented portfolios, concluded.
It asked consumers what they would do if they were given $5,000 to invest all in one place. Some 12% of millennials aged 18 to 34 said they’d invest it in a cryptocurrency over any other type of investment versus 3% of those aged 45 to 54 or 55 to 64. One explanation: Bitcoin was created after the 2008 financial crisis as a means to exchange money without relying on the banking system, Zeng said.
“Bitcoin’s anti-establishment roots and decentralized system brings with it the hope for a new economy that puts people over corporations,” she said. “This is an extremely appealing message to millennials who watched their job outlooks dwindle as the financial crisis unfolded in tandem with their first-ever entry into the job market.”
Case in point: Sam, a New York–based wine and spirits sales representative and engineering student, said the crisis was a huge factor in his decision to eschew stock markets. He sank $3,800 in savings into cryptocurrencies in 2016, the first time he has even made an investment (he owns no stocks). He since has redistributed the money to Tether, a coin that is tied to the U.S. dollar.
He watches the markets closely. While his choice to buy coins was a financial investment, he did so largely because he believes in other functions of cryptocurrency. “These have the potential to replace bank lending, financial litigation and a lot of things that make life incredibly complicated for ordinary people,” he said.
At the height of cryptocurrency valuation, he said, he had seen his investment triple, and since then he has experienced some pullback as the market has shifted. He said he has not taken out any of his investments.
Some crypto fans may be too reckless
The fact that bitcoin is hot right now does not make it the most ideal investment choice — for millennials or anybody else, said Andrea Coombes, retirement and investing specialist at personal-finance resource Nerdwallet. “This is pretty concerning,” she said of the trend. “If you want to spend money to play with cryptocurrency, by all means go ahead, but make sure it’s money you are willing to lose.”
The temptation to hop on the bitcoin train as prices jumped more than 400% in 2017 is indicative of millennials’ stereotypical desire for instant gratification, notes Coombes: They’ve heard tales of people getting rich quickly with the currency.
But they’d be better off putting their money in traditional investments such as a stable mutual fund or exchange-traded fund and waiting for it to grow over years. Consumers can open an account with Vanguard for as little as $1,000 or consider apps like Acorns, which target millennials who want to enter the investment world with small amounts of money.
“It sounds boring and is not as sexy as bitcoin, but if you have long-term goals those vehicles are going to get you there,” Coombes said.
Still, the cryptocurrency space allows millennials to test their stamina for a volatile market, something many investors have been dealing with in the last few days as the Dow has experienced a spike in volatility while staggering through a week featuring not one but two declines of more than 1,000 points.
New York public-relations associate Carissa Hilliard, 28, has never invested a single dollar in the stock market, but she spent weeks researching cryptocurrencies. She then invested $100. “I’ve always wanted to invest, but it seemed like you needed to have an extensive background in it to do well,” she said. “With crypto I felt it evened the playing field more because it was new.”