The everything rally of the last several months may be getting a lift from an unexpected source: federal stimulus money.
A new Yahoo Finance–Harris poll finds that 9% of people expecting to get a $1,400 stimulus check plan to invest some of the money in traditional assets such as stocks, while 7% plan to use the money to buy cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
Young investors are even more willing to gamble. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 19% plan to put stimulus money into traditional investments, and 10% plan to buy cryptocurrencies with the cash. The numbers are higher still for millennials aged 25 to 40: 20% are putting stimulus money into traditional investments and 15% are buying crypto. Above the age of 40, the portion planning to use the money for each type of investment drops to single digits. The numbers come from a survey of 1,052 U.S. adults conducted March 12–15.
Many Americans still need stimulus money to pay for basics such as food and rent. Overall, 41% of respondents in the survey say they plan to use their stimulus checks to cover every-day necessities. Another 40% plan to save the money, with 36% planning to pay down debt and 16% spending the money on non-essential things such as entertainment or gadgets. The survey allowed multiple responses, and some people no doubt will split what they do with the money.
But the portion going toward investments could be substantial. The latest relief plan will pump about $1.9 trillion into the U.S. economy, the biggest of three large stimulus bills so far. Stimulus checks alone will account for about $400 billion of that. If 10% of that money made it into markets, that would be $40 billion in additional demand for financial assets. That’s probably not enough to move the overall market, but it could affect the action in lightly capitalized assets.
Some traders on social-media sites such as Reddit say they’ve used “stimmy” money to buy trendy “meme stocks” such as Gamestop. Other surveys, by Mizuho Securities and Deutsche Bank, also found that some stimulus recipients are putting the money into speculative investments.
Stimulus money has apparently been sloshing into financial markets since the first checks went out last March. In the Yahoo Finance–Harris survey, a similar portion of respondents said they spent the $1,200 checks from last spring and the $600 checks from January on stocks, crypto and other investments. Similar portions also said they needed the money for necessities.
Millennials and Gen Zers aren’t gambling with stimulus money because they feel they can afford to lose it. If anything, they’re feeling more pinched than older Americans. Overall, 29% of respondents say they’re financially worse off than before the pandemic crisis hit last year. But 40% of 18- to 24-year-olds say they’re worse off, and 32% of 24- to 40-year-olds feel that way. It makes sense that business shutdowns and job losses would hit younger workers harder, since they’re less likely to have assets such as a house or savings to fall back on.
Some critics feel the latest stimulus plan, which Democrats passed without any Republican support, is too costly and spends too much money on non-emergency measures. The Yahoo Finance–Harris poll supports that, to some extent. Sixty-two percent of those expecting a fresh stimulus payment say they need it to pay for basic necessities, but 31% say they don’t need it, with 7% unsure. Some economists think it’s better to target relief during a downturn at the unemployed and others with an acute need, instead of blanketing most of the population, regardless of need.
Democrats who drafted and voted for the latest stimulus bill intended to provide funds Americans can use in a variety of ways. But speculating on stocks and cryptocurrencies wasn’t one of them. Some of those speculators will turn a profit, but others will end up blowing the money, as happens with all short-term gambling. Those stimulus checks will end up in somebody else’s pocket.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips, and click here to get Rick’s stories by email.