Millennial Money

08/06/2013 9:00 am EST

Focus: STRATEGIES

Jack Bowers

Editor, Fidelity Monitor & Insight

The younger generation is not quite as bad off as the media suggests; in fact, they are positioned to become tomorrow's stockholders, suggests Jack Bowers in his Fidelity Monitor & Insight.

Who will buy stocks when the boomer generation sells? Until recently, there wasn't a clear answer to this demographic question. But with Boomers reducing their stock exposure, and the Millennial population (ages 18-37) swelling to 86 million, we now have an answer.

The Millennials' growing ability to invest in stocks—along with their healthy appetite for risk—has set the stage for a full offset.

The media perception is that Millennials are unemployed, living with their parents and saddled with college debt. In reality, less than 15% of 25-34 year-olds are still in the nest, and many of them are working and saving for a down payment on a house. They are a highly educated group, and many have no college debt.

Among those who do, the average loan is about $25k. At today's low interest rates, annual debt service is on par with what Boomers took on for their first new car loan.

While unemployment remains high among 20-24 year-olds (13.3%), the rate for those aged 25-34 is below the national average (7.4%).

According to a recent Barron's article, Millennials already account for 21% of US consumer spending, a figure that could rise sharply as employment drives household formation, which in turn drives spending on autos and housing.

The generation may also be able to invest a greater share of income in stocks, because today's borrowing rates are a fraction of what Boomers saw when they were striking out on their own.

Be it travel, extreme sports, job opportunities or investing, the Millennials are an opportunistic bunch.

Vanguard, which allows minors to open Roth IRAs at an early age (thus having a unique view into Millennial investing habits,) reports that their stock exposure exceeds 70%. The oldest Millennials are just entering the key 35-49 age group, which invests heavily in stocks.

As a result, sometime in the next few years, we can expect stock market outflows among individuals to reverse, which suggests stock returns should modestly outpace earnings growth over the next 15 years.

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