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Millennial Investors Scarred by Financial Crisis

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Ten years after the financial crisis hit, it is still having a major psychological impact on investors.

According to a new survey from Legg Mason Global Asset Management, millennial investors in the United States report that the financial crisis and subsequent great recession strongly influence their investment decisions, leaving them more risk-averse than any other age group.

“Who thought millennial investors, most of whom were too young to be actively engaged in the markets at the time, would turn out to be the unwitting victims of the financial crisis?” Tom Hoops, executive vice president and head of business development at Legg Mason, said in a statement. “The pain their parents and grandparents experienced left an indelible impression that is only now manifesting itself as they begin to engage with the markets. They are not emulating previous generations in their investment behavior.”

The survey finds that 82% of the surveyed millennials said their investment decisions are influenced by the financial crisis, with 57% saying they are “strongly influenced.”

By comparison, 39% of Gen X, 13% of baby boomers, and 14% over age 65 said their investment decisions are still “strongly influenced” by the tumultuous global financial events that began in 2007 and ended in 2009.

A similar number of millennial investors said they are conservative investors (85%), with 52% calling themselves “very conservative.” Only 30% of Gen X, 29% of baby boomers, and 28% over age 65 consider themselves “very conservative.”

According to Hoops, this conservative approach — if it keeps them away from stocks and bonds entirely — could have “perilous implications” for their ability to save and benefit from market growth for retirement.

“Millennials have one great advantage over all other investors: their youth,” Hoops said in a statement. “History shows again and again that growth investing works over the long term. If they avoid potential growth opportunities like equities, they are letting their greatest advantage slip through their hands.”

The survey does show that millennials maybe becoming more comfortable with risk after the sustained bull market.

According to the survey, 78% of the surveyed millennial investors said this year they plan to take on more risk — with 45% saying “much more risk.” About 66% say they are interested in investing in equities. Meanwhile, just 27% of Gen-X investors plan to take on “much more risk.”

”Millennials should be willing to take risk now, when they have time to make up for possible losses,” Hoop said. “If they do not capture investment gains, they could find themselves short on savings later in life. That could force them to take greater risk at the absolute worst time: right when they should be taking less.”

The post-financial crisis U.S. equity bull market — at eight years and counting — has rewarded investors with annualized total returns of more than 14.6%. However, according to Legg Mason, with lower growth projected in the U.S. and globally, returns at those levels are far from assured.

Most U.S. annual forecasts are in the 1.8-2.2% range, perhaps as high as 2.5%, and some developed nations expect half that.

According to Legg Mason, this could mean millennials could be revisiting equity investments with an “unrealistic set of expectations.”

“If their timing turns out to be especially poor, it could scare them away from putting their money into the stock and bond markets, possibly forever,” according to Legg Mason.

According to Hoops, these may not be times for aggressive trading or concentrating in only a few stocks or sectors.

“Holding a diversified basket of stocks for long periods remains one of the best ways to earn the returns young investors need over a lifetime,” Hoops said.

The U.S. portion of the survey included responses from 900 U.S. participants, including 305 millennials and 458 investors with investable assets not including their home.

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