By Ian Thomas
A majority of millennial millionaires (55%) say they are planning to sell stocks in 2022 because of potential tax changes, according to the recent CNBC Millionaire Survey.
Ninety percent of millennial millionaires say they anticipate taking some sort of action in regards to their finances in the year ahead as a result of potential tax changes, according to the survey, which polls investors with investible assets of $1 million or more, not including primary residences.
That differs widely from the older generational millionaires surveyed in the poll. In comparison, 54% of Gen X millionaires say they plan to make a change, while just 29% and 38% of baby boomers and those from the World War II generation said they plan to, respectively.
Millennials are also more likely than older millionaires to say they will change estate plans (35%), sell real estate (26%), or make large gifts or donations (23%) for tax reasons, according to the survey. Just about one-quarter (23%) also indicated they may sell additional forms of assets beyond stocks and real estate as part of tax planning.
While President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act contemplates significant changes to the tax code, the House version that passed in November pulled back on some of the tax moves with major implications for personal finances. Democrats then failed to pass the bill in the Senate before year-end. Tax changes to help cut the annual deficit or cover the costs for new programs could back on the table next year, but the legislative outlook remains uncertain into 2022.
Part of the difference in outlook among the generations likely comes down to how they achieved their millionaire status and the potential for that to be heavily invested in one area, said Blair duQuesnay, an investment advisor at Ritholtz Wealth Management.
“A lot of millennial millionaires have concentrated positions in company stock,” duQuesnay said. “That may be companies that they work for that have remained private so they’re probably just starting to have liquidity; the other route that’s common for millennials is cryptocurrency … there are also millennials who simply put it all on Tesla and had just held and held and held.”
Those that followed these strategies likely saw it pay off in 2021.
There was a record surge in market debuts this year in the U.S., with 416 IPOs raising around $156 billion and funding to private companies continues to flow and support higher valuations.
Eighty-three percent of millennial millionaires said they own cryptocurrencies, with more than half (53%) having at least 50% of their wealth in crypto.
Elon Musk faced his own challenges of having a deep investment in Tesla and the tax challenges, as a result, selling a total of $9.85 billion in Tesla stock in November.
“Maybe now they’re a bit older; maybe they’re realizing they want to do other things with those gains, so they’re contemplating changes,” duQuesnay said. “I really think it comes down not to necessarily the risk tolerance of millions of millennials, but simply as a feature of how they made their wealth.”
For older generations, it’s more likely that they already have a more balanced portfolio that wouldn’t necessitate any sort of changes if not desired, duQuesnay said.
“If you compare the typical millennial millionaire portfolio to the typical baby boomer millionaire, the baby boomers, for the most part, have saved and invested and diversified their portfolios already,” she said. “They’re not necessarily needing to make a shift, it’s really just continuing the plan that they were on.”
On the other hand, many millennial millionaires are now structuring their financial planning after leaving companies with stock or after working at a start-up that is now going public.
“That is a recurring theme that I’ve lately heard talking to people,” duQuesnay said.
Tax loss selling as a personal financial planning strategy is also touted much more today as a value-added service, particularly through investment platforms that have become popular with younger investors such as robo-advisors including Wealthfront and Betterment.
“People are aware of it at a younger age,” said Mitch Goldberg of investment advisory firm ClientFirst Strategy.
In addition, many younger investors were brought into the market through the no-commission trading structure now standard across the brokerage industry and which does make the buying and selling of stocks an easier decision.
Both of these trading technology developments were in place at a time when many younger investors were also caught up in the meme stock and pandemic stock craze. Even if the S&P 500 is up nearly 30% this year, it is still easy to lose money in individual stocks, Goldberg said, and many of big winners for new investors in 2020 took serious hits this year.
“DoorDash, Zoom, AMC, GameStop and lots of other very popular stocks caught up in investor euphoria have become losses,” he said. “Zillow, Stich Fix, Teladoc, DocuSign … stocks that went up because of a niche set of pandemic circumstances have been obliterated,” he said.
This is in contrast to older investors, such as boomers, who didn’t understand the meme stock phenomenon and stuck to the more conservative stocks they know well, such as Apple and Microsoft, and that have paid off for them this year and, as a result, investors are even less likely to sell even if their valuations are sky-high.
Catherine McBreen, managing director of Spectrem Group, which conducted the survey for CNBC, said that for millennial millionaires, “they’re very aggressive in their investment intentions, but they’re also smart.”
The fact that the survey showed millennial millionaires were most likely to support taxing long-term capital gains as ordinary income as well as creating an annual 2% tax on wealth in excess of $50 million suggests that they might look to take advantage of not having to pay a tax before it was implemented, she said.
The survey also showed vastly differing opinions on how big of a risk inflation is to the U.S. economy over the next year. No millennial millionaires said it was a risk, while baby boomers said it was the biggest risk. Millennial millionaires said coronavirus was the biggest risk, followed by higher taxes and the U.S. stock market.
“Millennials are smart enough to understand [inflation], but they’ve never experienced it,” McBreen said. “The older generations are becoming much more cautious about the whole inflation wave that is coming to a head, while younger investors are just more focused on taxes and the market.”