The beginning of the coronavirus pandemic saw a huge amount of new investors join the market for a variety of reasons: stimulus money, volatility, desperation, boredom.
More and more, regular retail investors were buying and selling stocks, buoyed by zero-commission trades that Robinhood innovated and the market eventually adopted in late 2019.
An initial narrative held that retail investors were trading penny stocks and trying to get rich quick, but evidence shows they’ve largely made moves anchored in financial orthodoxy, i.e., “buying the dip.” Furthermore, these investors probably functioned as somewhat of a stabilizing force during significant market volatility.
This is no surprise to TD Ameritrade’s chief market strategist JJ Kinahan. Since the pandemic began and more investors got into the market, they have proven to be anything but a static force, learning, getting more experience, and adapting.
Kinahan is quick to point out that TD Ameritrade hasn’t shed its traditional investors, but has added a new cohort of millennials and others who had previously been on the sidelines. This makes it difficult to see “retail investors” as a unified group.
The new investors may have made a few bone-headed errors in the initial stages of their investing careers, but Kinahan says the inexperienced retail investors have been improving.
“I think the biggest thing is people have time,” said Kinahan. “Sometimes for unfortunate reasons, but even working from home they can set their own schedule a bit more than they're able to in the office.”
“Part of the story that doesn’t get told,” Kinahan said, is that people are leveraging the mountains of free education platforms to learn about markets, trading, portfolios, taxes, as well as individual companies, funds, and more.
At TD Ameritrade, for instance, customers are accessing these educational resources three times more than they did last year. Many newbie investors are learning about this stuff for the first time, Kinahan said.
“I love to see that education usage is up so much,” said Kinahan. “People say they’re just trading like crazy people, but that’s not the case.”
Some of this may help explain why retail investors were the outright big winners of the spring rally, having bought the dip in a huge way as other classes of investors fled the markets. For individual investors who have been served countless Warren Buffett quotes about thinking long-term — and rightly so, most advisors say — they acted on his advice.
“I think the buy-the-dip mentality has been incredibly successful for 10 years,” said Kinahan, who likened it to football. “If you were playing football you’d run the play until it didn’t work.”
Not only are people running that play back over and over again, and winning, they’re also investing in quality, Kinahan said.
“Is there some part of their portfolio that they may be taking a shot with? There probably is,” said Kinahan. “But their core part? I look at our clients: Apple is the number one held stock at our firm.”