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More Americans Than Ever Own Stocks

Pandemic, zero-commission trading ‘created a whole generation of investors’

By HANNAH MIAO
Tue, Dec 19, 2023 9:25amGrey Clock 4 min

The share of Americans who own stocks has never been so high.

About 58% of U.S. households owned stocks in 2022, according to the Federal Reserve’s survey of consumer finances released this fall. That is up from 53% in 2019 and marks the highest household stock-ownership rate recorded in the triennial survey. The cohort includes families holding individual shares directly and those owning stocks indirectly through funds, retirement accounts or other managed accounts.

The data provide the most comprehensive snapshot yet of how the Covid-era explosion in investing has reshaped Americans’ personal finances. Stuck at home during the pandemic with extra cash, millions jumped into the stock market for the first time. The elimination of commission fees on stock trading across U.S. brokerages made investing cheaper than ever.

“It created a whole generation of investors,” said Anthony Denier, chief executive of mobile brokerage Webull U.S.

Most households own stocks through a retirement account, such as a 401(k), but more Americans in the past few years have invested in individual shares directly. Direct stock ownership increased to 21% of families in 2022 from 15% in 2019—the largest increase on record since the survey began in 1989.

As more households bought individual shares, those newer entrants invested with less money than longtime stockholders. The median value of households’ direct stockholdings nearly halved from 2019 to about $15,000 in 2022, adjusted for inflation.

When the stock market crashed in early 2020, Nick Luczak, then a sophomore at the University of Michigan, used the $57 in his checking account to open a brokerage account on Robinhood and buy whichever stocks he could afford. Once the pandemic forced him off campus to live with his parents, he began researching the market and buying more stocks.

“I said, ‘Well, I have all this spare time. There’s no reason at all I shouldn’t be trying to make the most money possible from this,’” Luczak said.

Luczak and his fraternity brothers started a group chat to discuss markets and stock picks. He said he made a profit investing in Amazon.com and watched his friends make, then lose, thousands of dollars trading meme stocks such as GameStop and AMC Entertainment Holdings in 2021. At one point, he considered becoming a day trader.

Now, Luczak, 24 years old, is focused on long-term investing. A salesman in Dallas, he is studying to become a certified financial planner.

Brokerages in recent years have made trading free and easy. Newer apps like Robinhood and Webull helped popularise zero-commission stock trading on smartphones. Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade and E*Trade all eliminated commission fees for stocks at the end of 2019. Fidelity and Schwab introduced fractional stock trading in 2020, allowing individuals to buy and sell slivers of shares.

“It’s become more accessible,” said Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, a certified financial planner and founder of The Fiscal Femme. “We’ve been debunking in the last few years the myth that you have to be rich or work on Wall Street to invest.”

The share of households owning stocks increased across all income levels from 2019 to 2022. Upper-middle-income families recorded the biggest jump in stock ownership.

Over those three years, stocks climbed to new highs. The S&P 500 rose 16% in 2020 and 27% in 2021. Even after a 19% drop last year, the benchmark stock index notched gains over the three-year period. The S&P 500 is up 23% in 2023.

Stock-market gains and rising home prices helped boost household wealth. Households’ median net worth climbed 37% from 2019 to 2022, adjusted for inflation, the largest increase in the survey’s history. The median value of a U.S. household’s primary residence surged to $323,200 in 2022, surpassing levels from before the 2007 housing market crash.

Americans’ penchant for stocks is distinct. U.S. households held about 39% of their financial assets in equities in 2022, according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data, a higher allocation than most other countries in the data set.

That appetite for stocks has been tested since the Fed began raising interest rates last year at the fastest clip since the 1980s and pledged to keep rates higher for longer. Investors have been flocking to assets with little risk such as money-market funds that are now offering some of the highest yields in years. Everyday investors, who rarely own bonds directly, are taking a second look at assets such as Treasurys and corporate bonds.

Fernando Soto, head of private banking in Chicago at Brown Brothers Harriman, said he has fielded more questions from clients about fixed-income investing and more requests from clients to buy bonds in 2023. In his personal portfolio, he increased his allocation to fixed-income this year.

“There’s a big shift,” Soto said. “This is the new normal.”

How has the higher rate environment shifted American household finances? The Fed consumer finance survey in 2025 will likely paint the fullest picture.



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The Middle East is set to be the fastest-growing marketing region in the world, driven by momentum in countries such as Saudi Arabia

By MEGAN GRAHAM
Tue, Jun 18, 2024 5 min

Saudi Arabia’s fledgling advertising industry and continued growth in the sector in the United Arab Emirates are helping to make the marketing business in the Middle East the fastest-growing in the world.

Ad spending in the Middle East is projected to increase 8.1% to $6.6 billion this year, up from 3.5% last year, according to advertising research firm WARC.

That expansion is building from a much smaller base than in many other ad markets. The Netherlands alone will generate $6 billion in ad spending in 2024, up about 2.3%, WARC said. But it is also enough to outpace every other region in 2024, the firm said.

“It reminds me almost of the gold rush,” said Reda Raad , chief executive of TBWA\Raad Group, an ad agency based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, that is part of the U.S.-based ad holding company Omnicom Group . “I don’t think we’re going to see this type of growth again in our lifetime.” TBWA\Raad has won eight new clients over the past year, with an increase in head count of 17% to accommodate the new work, Raad said.

Some international brands have long maintained a presence in the region. PepsiCo has considered the area a strategic market for decades, said Karim Elfiqi , senior vice president and chief marketing officer at PepsiCo Africa, Middle East and South Asia. Sponsorship deals with local stars such as Mohamed Salah , a soccer player from Egypt, “are a testimony of how over time, we have been part of the cultural fabric of the region,” Elfiqi said.

Other major brands have formed a more recent focus on the Middle East. The Lego Group opened a Middle East and Africa headquarters in Dubai in 2019, citing the size of the region’s young population. That office has developed work such as a Ramadan-themed campaign that ran in the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, among other locations.

‘Massive growth’

The Middle East’s ad market has lagged behind regions such as North America and Europe partly because of stricter cultural norms and regulations that affected business, as did a more limited media landscape and economic instability, according to Raad.

But marketing growth in the region is now being driven in part by newfound marketing interest in Saudi Arabia, where ad spending this year is expected to reach $2.1 billion, nearly double its level in 2019, according to WARC. Growth is also coming from the U.A.E., whose ad market is expected to reach $1.7 billion in 2024. Smaller contributors include Qatar and Kuwait.

The landscape has changed now because of economic diversification, increased connectivity and a move into the digital world, leading international brands to enter and invest in campaigns tailored to the region, Raad said.

Four years ago, Saudi Arabia made up a small proportion of business at Lightblue, a creative experience and tech agency based in Dubai. These days, 40% of its business comes from the country, says co-founder David Balfour , who opened an office in Riyadh last month as a result.

“The conversation used to be, ‘We’re going to do this in Dubai.’ Now, it’s ‘We’re going to do this in Dubai—and in Saudi.’” Balfour said. “We’re seeing massive growth in that region.”

There have been speed bumps. As government spending reaches huge levels , Saudi Arabia experienced a rare economic contraction in 2023.

But the country’s efforts to expand its economic pursuits beyond oil have led to the creation of new brands, which are seeking the help of marketing agencies to get the word out.

Marketers in the region are seeking help to stay on-trend in areas such as generative artificial intelligence and social media, said Greg Paull , principal of R3, a consulting firm that helps match advertisers with agencies.

“U.A.E. has been a magnet for the region for 20 years as more investment has come in—but with the new leadership in Saudi since 2017 [when Mohammed bin Salman was named crown prince ], this market has gone through remarkable growth,” Paull said.

Saudi Arabia has faced criticism for its human-rights record under the crown prince, the day-to-day ruler of the kingdom, especially over the 2018 killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the more recent jailing of women’s rights activists.

Mohammed has outlasted the international isolation that followed Khashoggi’s killing, however, and continues to pursue an economic diversification plan dubbed Vision 2030. The country last year unveiled plans for a new international airline called Riyadh Air, is investing billions of dollars to build its tourism and video game industries, and in March hosted a golf tournament in Jeddah under the auspices of LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed league that has both challenged the PGA Tour and struck a deal to unify with it.

Changing tides

Vision 2030 also calls women’s empowerment a top social priority and seeks to increase the country’s employment rate of women.

Nada Hakeem , CEO and co-founder of Saudi creative agency Wetheloft, said the perceptions of hardships for women in the marketing and advertising industry are outdated and inaccurate.

“As a Saudi woman who founded my company in 2012, I’ve always felt supported by the creative community and the industry as a whole,” Hakeem said. “While every society may have its challenges, I can confidently say that these challenges have not hindered our growth.”

A progression of new laws, policies and incentives are making the industry in Saudi Arabia more inclusive and supportive for women, she added.

In certain parts of the Middle East, “absolutely, it’s still challenging, but they are making the right strides, and they have the right quotas and ambitions in place,” said Rebecca Bezzina , CEO for the EMEA region at R/GA, an agency owned by Interpublic Group of Cos.

“They’ve got wealth, they’ve got world-class ambition, world-class budget. They’re not shy of doing things in the right way,” Bezzina added, speaking of the region overall. “But they still have a talent shortage, especially from a creative and design and product point of view. So often what we’ve found our success has been that they’ve come to us and said, ‘Oh, we want a world-class agency to help us launch this new venture or do this new brand.’”

R/GA said it sees 69% more requests for agency work from marketers in the region today than it did five years ago. It recently handled a brand redesign for Banque Saudi Fransi, which wanted to reaffirm its Saudi roots with a modern identity, and created Weyay, the brand for a new digital bank from the National Bank of Kuwait.

The agency hasn’t notably increased its regional workforce, but it has made changes to facilitate working across Europe and the Middle East.

Other Western players are making moves to capture a piece of the growth. Advertising giant WPP has long worked in Saudi Arabia through units such as Ogilvy and GroupM, but in 2021 established a joint venture with a local company to create ICG Saudi Arabia, a communications and media company based in Saudi Arabia. Ad holding company Stagwell opened new offices for its media agency Assembly in Riyadh in 2021 and in Cairo in 2022.

Regional hospitality

Some executives said certain facets of business dealings in the Middle East are different than in other parts of the world.

Bertrand Morin, a group account director for R/GA who is based in London and works often with Middle Eastern clients, said he spends much more time speaking about personal lives and families with those clients than those in the U.K. or U.S. He has been invited to Middle Eastern clients’ homes to join their families for dinner, something that has never happened with clients elsewhere.

But others say it can feel surprisingly familiar.

Balfour, the Lightblue co-founder, said he was struck by the number of ad-agency workers recently having dinner at the Riyadh location of steakhouse chain Beefbar, and the scene’s similarity to far-off locations.

“The staff are from everywhere in the world. The service and the food is unbelievable. There’s a DJ playing,” Balfour said. “Apart from not having alcohol, you could be anywhere in the world.”