Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Look who's in the stock market now: Millennials

Millennials and the stock market

They may be the generation with the most debt worries, but it appears millennials are still finding ways to dive into the stock market and pile on risk.

A recent survey by Scottrade tracked the trading habits of different generations. It found millennials or Generation Y, on average, derived nearly a third of their annual household income from trading. Meanwhile, Generation X and baby boomers generated far less—about 20 percent of their incomes from the markets.

The online brokerage firm's data also revealed millennials are placing a bigger emphasis on social analysis to make investment decisions in lieu of using more traditional, safer methods like fundamentals and technical levels.

But if they're putting up money they can't afford to lose, their entry to the market could be a time bomb.

Frank Murtha, managing partner at MarketPsych and an expert in behavioral finance, thinks Generation Y may be looking towards the stock market as a potential quick fix to their debt problems.

"There are few things more seductive than a rising stock market. I don't care who you are," said Murtha. "I think trading has always given the illusion of easy money."

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He also notes this is the first generation truly raised in a culture where the stock market was mainstream.

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"They've seen what a panic looks like from the outside, but haven't participated in it," he said. "The way the stock market has rebounded from the lows, it is the classic rising tide. I hope I am wrong about this, but I think eventually there will be a steep decline in the market. There will be a lot of young people who will learn their lesson the hard way."

Some 71 percent of college seniors in 2012 graduated with student loan debt, according to The Project on Student Debt. The average amount owed was $29,400.

Using social media to make investment decisions is considered to be in its infancy, but there's evidence suggesting it's gaining critical traction.

Millennials are being wooed by online sources who promise quick access to information and an edge, according to Brian Bachelier, Scottrade vice president of active trader strategy.

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He believes efforts to slash debt could be the motive behind the bigger risk appetites.

"They are trading options and going into the emerging markets," said Bachelier, who believes millennials have a major advantage over past generations because they grew up around the markets.

Even though Scottrade's survey isn't scientific, there are anecdotal accounts suggesting that the findings could be onto something.

Jason Raznick, CEO of Benzinga, a service providing news content and analysis for investors, said users between the ages of 25 and 35 on his site have popped 20 percent over the past two years.

"I think it all started when Twitter went public. It was all over the media and it was non-stop…. And with the Dow hitting record highs, it's sort of bringing new people into the markets," said Raznick, who also launched Benzinga's sister website Marketfy earlier this year.

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He's seeing millennials make riskier trades in the stock market, too.

"I think it's the culture… They want to find the next hot sector. They are trying to discover undiscovered stocks," Raznick said.

If this generation collectively depends on social media and blog sites such as Benzinga, Stocktwits and Seeking Alpha to do their stock market research, some believe it's possible they're packing into the same trades.

These crowds are dangers and they could create a bubble, according to Larry McDonald, senior director of Newedge USA, a derivatives broker. But activity like that is often to McDonald's gain.

"They herd, all do the same thing and have the same view. Therefore, when I see too many people in the same boat, that's where I see opportunity," he said.

Ricky Frankel, 22, doesn't consider himself as part of the herd of younger investors taking bigger and bigger risks while solely depending on social media.

The San Fernando Valley resident credits his more traditional approach of buying dividend stocks with helping him earn cash during school.

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"It got me enough money to let me live off and make it through college without asking my parents for more money," said Frankel, who didn't have any student loans. He invested as a substitute for holding down a part-time job, and he used the profits to buy concert tickets and go to clubs.

Frankel feels his strategy is conservative. He turns to social media sites focusing on the stock market, but also tunes into CNBC and researches the companies closely.

Now out of college with a political science degree, he's still using the same investing method to earn money—this time while he co-launches an online legal services business.

—By CNBC's Stephanie Landsman.