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Gen Z investing in cryptocurrency BTC, ETH and meme stocks AMC, GME

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The next generation of investors are super online ⁠— instead of traditional investments, many Gen Z and young millennial investors, from teens to those in their early 20s, are bullish on cryptocurrency and the technology that surrounds it.

This includes digital coins and blockchains, like bitcoin and ethereum; meme coins, like dogecoin; NFTs, or nonfungible tokens; and DeFi, or decentralized finance.

Some have spent the bulk of their savings on these type of investments: Nearly half of millennial millionaires have at least 25% of their wealth in cryptocurrencies, according to a new CNBC Millionaire Survey. More than a third of millennial millionaires have at least half their wealth in crypto and about half own NFTs.

Young investors have also taken part in recent meme stock rallies, which occur when retail investors buy up shares of stocks shorted by Wall Street hedge funds, like GameStop and AMC Entertainment. In part, the investors hope to force hedge funds to pay, overcoming what they see to be an inefficient system.

One reason young people have turned to alternative investments like crypto is simple: Many just don’t trust traditional investment institutions, as Allison Reichel, 23, tells CNBC Make It. They prefer to rely on their own research rather than use insights from traditional institutions, like financial advisors from legacy firms.

That includes Reichel herself. While working on her PhD in economics, Reichel is also a senior editor at crypto news site Blockworks in Washington, D.C. She started to invest “heavily” in crypto this year, and her crypto holdings account for most of her portfolio, she says. Reichel plans to hold her bitcoin and ethereum long-term.

Allison Reichel, 23, says she invests most of her income in cryptocurrency.

Courtesy of Allison Reichel

But this distrust isn’t the only thing driving young people to invest in cryptocurrencies and meme stocks. First, many have a genuinely positive outlook on blockchain technology. And second, at the same time that they feel disconnected from traditional investments, many are finding community, and sometimes fun, in the crypto space. They want to invest in what they connect with, whether it be stocks, coins or digital assets.

CNBC Make It talked to several Gen Z and young millennial investors, like Reichel, about how these factors impact where they choose to put their money, and why they’re still investing with caution.

‘I’m big on the technology’

Although some young traders bet on altcoins and attempt to turn a quick profit through buying and selling, many plan to “hodl” their favorite cryptocurrencies for the long haul.

“In any crypto, you have those super strong network effects where people believe in it so much that they’re like, ‘I’m never selling because I believe it’s the future of finance,'” Reichel says. “I see the long-term applicability and use of crypto,” she says of her own plans to hold.

That’s true of many young investors, who believe in the technology itself.

While doing research for her PhD, Reichel was inspired by how bitcoin was being used to help those in need in different countries. In Venezuela, for example, crypto was a way that families could still receive money from relatives in the U.S. during a time when the president wasn’t allowing humanitarian aid.

And although its high price may make owning bitcoin seem unattainable, Reichel points out the option to buy fractional shares called satoshis.

Similar reasons led 23-year-old Kyla Scanlon to begin investing in bitcoin and ethereum during college in 2016. “I really liked the application that [bitcoin] has for people who are unbanked. My whole life thesis is, ‘How do we create financial accessibility and equality for everybody?’ I think crypto is one step in allowing people who don’t have access to traditional methods like banks to do so,” she says.

Kyla Scanlon, 23, says she began investing in bitcoin and ethereum in 2016.

Courtesy of Kyla Scanlon

Scanlon first started trading options in high school and began working in asset management after graduating from college, which has boosted her confidence in her personal investment decisions, she says. Her core cryptocurrency holdings still consist of bitcoin and ethereum, and she also owns stock in companies like Roblox, Facebook and Etsy.

Scanlon is also bullish on blockchain technology, which is a decentralized digital ledger that documents cryptocurrency transactions and other information. “I don’t know if bitcoin will ever be like a currency, but I’m big on the technology,” she says.

Kayla Kilbride, a 24-year-old known on financial TikTok as @girlstalkstocks with over 108,000 followers, has “a growing confidence in bitcoin and ethereum specifically,” due to the capabilities of each blockchain.

Kilbride began investing in bitcoin and ethereum earlier this year, starting with small amounts here and there. She has just a few hundred dollars invested in cryptocurrency, but plans to continue to grow her holdings. In lieu of a full-time job, she currently day trades and sells NFTs of her social media content to earn income.

The risk was worth it because I liked the technology.

“As I began to understand the blockchain and the technology behind it, that is when I felt comfortable saying ‘OK, even if I invested when bitcoin was priced at $60,000 and it drops down to, let’s say, $20,000 or even lower, I can still support it, even if I lose money in the endeavor,'” Kilbride says. “The risk was worth it because I liked the technology.”

Many financial experts view cryptocurrency as a speculative, volatile and risky investment that can be susceptible to fraud.

But this doesn’t worry Reichel, Scanlon and Kilbride much, in part because they’re intentional with their investments.

Reichel is extremely bullish on bitcoin’s future value, but only invests what she can afford to lose. “I’m comfortable losing it because I make sure that I have all my bills paid,” she says. “Obviously it’s great when the gains come, but for me, [bitcoin is] truly something that I believe has the potential to revolutionize monetary regimes throughout the world.”

A distrust with traditional institutions

Of course, many Gen Z and young millennial investors initially turned to cryptocurrency as a way to avoid traditional financial institutions, but still build wealth.

Reichel, Scanlon and Kilbride, who all research on their own and invest without the help of financial advisors, say part of their distrust stems from witnessing inequitable and inefficient financial systems.

The younger generation worries about their wealth and retirement, Reichel says. They don’t want to rely on the same traditional systems that their parents did. “I think a lot of people see inefficiencies and really want to change it,” she says.

Scanlon agrees. She also believes concerns over inflation are driving some interest in cryptocurrency among young people.

And with crypto, the barrier to entry is often low.

“It’s about accessibility,” says Cooper Turley, a crypto strategist at ethereum-based streaming app Audius. “With most tokens, there is no IPO. Retail investors have the same opportunities to contribute to and earn value from early stage [crypto] projects the same way venture capitalists do.”

Cooper Turley, 25, says he began to invest in cryptocurrency in 2017.

Courtesy of Cooper Turley.

Turley, 25, invested in bitcoin and ethereum in 2017 while in college, and now, he says those investments have made him a millionaire. Turley is an angel investor in the space, he says, and also acts as an advisor for Variant Fund, a crypto venture firm.

“This paradigm shift of democratized ownership paired with 24/7 trading and always-on exchanges is far more native to an internet-savvy generation than using a brokerage,” he says.

Still, it’s important to note that there are significant downsides to crypto. Experts warn investors to be cautious when putting money into cryptocurrency; it can be extremely volatile and it’s possible to lose your entire investment.

A love of memes

Many young investors also choose to have fun with their investments by buying meme coins, like dogecoin, and meme stocks, like GameStop and AMC Entertainment.

“Crypto and meme stocks are more memorable to young investors than traditional companies,” Turley says. “Young investors care far less about the bottom line of a corporation and far more about a meme or narrative they can collectively share with their friends.”

Dogecoin, for example, launched in 2013 based on the “Doge” meme, which portrays a shiba inu dog. Its creators didn’t intend for dogecoin to be taken seriously, but it is now one of the top 10 cryptocurrencies my market cap, with a market value of over $22 billion.

Kilbride sees dogecoin as a way to introduce people to crypto. “Dogecoin, being very cheap, is affordable. It’s easy to understand,” Kilbride says, which is part the reason she bought it too. “I’ve invested more in bitcoin and ethereum because of dogecoin [gains].”

Kayla Kilbride, 24, began investing in crypto earlier this year.

Courtesy of Kayla Kilbride

“Meme stocks take away those super scary aspects of finance,” Reichel says. “When you think about the stock market, the typical picture is all of these older guys in suits who have been running it for years.” That’s not true for something like dogecoin.

There’s also the feeling that seemingly everyone is getting in on the action. Though many meme coins are entirely speculative, very risky and sometimes fraudulent, it can be difficult to not jump in on the trades. “It can be hard with all the FOMO (fear of missing out), because you see all these coins taking off,” Reichel explains.

For Turley, “the best example of a meme coin I’ve invested in is unisocks, or $SOCKS, a digital token representing a claim on a physical pair of socks,” he says.

But sometimes, it’s about more than fun. For many, the rallies of meme stocks like GameStop and AMC symbolized standing up to big-name Wall Street hedge funds, a desire that stems from a feeling of “a lack of access for the ‘little man,'” Kilbride says.

To Scanlon, “there’s this underlying resentment because our parents were able to have a 60/40 stock/bond portfolio and be fine and retire with no worries at all. But that’s not the case for this generation.”

Yet despite putting money into “fun” investments, these young investors still aim to be somewhat careful.

For Kilbride, that means avoiding any coins that seem sketchy. “When there’s so much hype … a lot of people are getting tricked, a lot of other people think it’s funny, but when you don’t have so much [money] where you can just lose, it’s too dangerous,” she says.

‘I invested as part of the community’

While traditional investments feel inaccessible to the next generation of investors, many are finding a sense of community in alternatives like cryptocurrency and meme stocks.

“I say the C in AMC stands for community, because I think that’s what [the frenzy] is about,” Scanlon says. “Post-pandemic, I think there’s a sense of loneliness. People are finding community within the stock market, in the Discord servers, in Reddit. People are just craving community because we don’t have that in the same way that we used to.”

Buying into things like GameStop and AMC is partially about being a small part of the movement, Kilbride says.

“When GameStop first rallied back in January, I invested as part of the community. I did not invest very much and I invested near the top, just to hold the line. I was like, ‘I want to purchase to be able to print it out and frame it on my wall,'” she explains.

Companies that maybe never perform that well were having this crazy moment. I was like, ‘I want to be part of this.’

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Google founders Page, Brin, have sold $1 billion in stock since May

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Larry Page, left, and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google Inc.

JB Reed | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google founders and controlling Alphabet stakeholders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have sold more than $1 billion worth of stock combined since May of this year.

Beginning in May of this year, the two sold both Class A and Class C shares worth more than $1.07 billion, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission compiled by OpenInsider. Brin’s sales total more than $610 million, while Page’s sales — including a round this week — are now over $462 million. Both founders are selling under pre-filed trading plans.

Brin and Page last sold shares in 2017, when their last plan expired. The company’s stock has performed well this year — Alphabet Class A shares are up more than 50% year-to-date, outpacing the NASDAQ and the other tech giants (Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft). The company reported strong revenues and earnings for Q2 2021 on Wednesday as it rebounded from the worst effects of the Covid pandemic, including a 69% annualized jump in advertising revenue to more than $50 billion for the quarter.

At the end of 2019, Page stepped down from the role as Alphabet CEO, handing the reins to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. At the same time, Sergey Brin stepped down as president of Alphabet and his role was eliminated.

Page and Brin, who co-founded Google in 1998, remain board members and holding majority stake in the company, controlling 51% of a special class of Alphabet’s voting shares. The two are among the world’s richest people.

The reclusive Silicon Valley billionaires have kept a low-profile since stepping down from their leadership roles, although Brin made an appearance at Google’s first retail store in New York this week, CNBC has learned. Page has reportedly been spending a lot of time on his yacht in the Fijian Islands during the pandemic, according to Insider.

Watch: Alphabet earnings report “walloped” analyst expectations, says analyst

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What people are wearing, buying as they head back to the office

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Commuters, most most of whom wear face masks, travel on the L train system in the Loop on July 27, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson | Getty Images

Johnny Reynolds has been spending a chunk of his paycheck at Lululemon lately. Not for the gym, but in preparation for his return to the office.

The 27-year-old public relations professional from the Philadelphia area expects to rejoin his colleagues after Labor Day. Instead of heading to the suit section of the closest department store, he’s filling his new wardrobe with Lululemon garb.

“They have button-down shirts, blazers, polos – basically a full wardrobe of comfortable, professional-looking attire,” Reynolds said. “I don’t envision ever wearing a suit to a meeting again.”

As Americans slowly return to the office, many are adopting a style similar to Reynolds’ that’s increasingly being called “workleisure” — a more put-together version of the athleisure apparel many already sport from the gym to the grocery store.

For women and men, that means pants — even denim — are stretching wider thanks to generous elastic waistbands. Tops aren’t tucked in, and ties are optional. Women are gravitating toward skirts and dresses that feel more comfortable than a form-fitting pair of pants. And sneakers — not heels — are always in the mix.

That also means where people shop for clothes is evolving. Companies like Lululemon and Athleta stand to benefit as consumers mix athletic-type clothing into their return-to-work wardrobes. Paring Lululemon’s iconic ABC Pant with a blazer is one common example for men. Brands and department store chains, such as Nordstrom, that are associated with pre-pandemic office wardrobes are pivoting fast to include more casual options among fall merchandise.

While categories of clothing including dresses and shirts, such as polos and tunics, are predicted to grow by double-digits this year over last year, business suits will only grow about 8%, according to the market research firm Euromonitor.

Last year, dozens of retail chains filed for bankruptcy protection and thousands of stores were shuttered — including a large number of apparel chains like J.Crew, Brooks Brothers, Men’s Wearhouse owner Tailored Brands and Loft parent Ascena. The shakeout has left consumers with fewer options as they plan their back-to-office shopping hauls.

“The workwear category is diminishing,” said Erin Schmidt, a senior analyst at Coresight Research, a global advisory and research firm specializing in retail and technology. “It’s not really a category anymore. It used to be a suit Monday through Thursday, and then casual Friday, and these were clearly defined.”

“The consumer today is reinventing what that means” Schmidt said. “The consumer is rewriting that definition of workwear. And it might be a little while for employers to figure this out.”

Piled-on pounds are also pushing consumers back to the mall for new clothes. Those who gained weight during the pandemic, may also be gravitating toward flowy and more forgiving clothing. Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh recently said the denim maker estimates that about 35% of American waistlines have been altered over the past year.

Aaron Cutler, a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C., said he won’t be buying any new clothes until he sheds his own “Covid pounds.”

“It’s still pretty casual in the office, but once client meetings pick up, then it may necessitate some wardrobe updates,” said 41-year-old Cutler. “I’ll probably venture out to some stores. The human interaction will be good for me.”

Meantime, 47-year-old Rahim Adatia said he has lost about 25 pounds from last March until now. The Facebook product manager in San Francisco said he has been shopping at Fila and Ted Baker for outfits to fit his now slimmed-down size.

People enter the Goldman Sachs headquarters building in New York, U.S., on Monday, June 14, 2021.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Whether it’s the desire for new styles, or the need for new sizes, sales of apparel have been on the rise, month after month. Transactions at clothing and clothing accessory stores in the U.S. grew 47.1% in June from June 2020, according to the latest data from the Commerce Department. And from April 2021 through June of this year, clothing sales are up 162.9% compared with the same period a year ago, the department said.

But the dollars haven’t been spread evenly around.

According to a separate analysis by Coresight Research and Euromonitor, dress wear’s share of the total U.S. apparel market dropped to 24.8% last year from 31.5% in 2019, as casual clothing such as sweatpants and pajamas reigned supreme. Coresight defines dress wear as any formal accessories, clothing and footwear, including blazers and suits meant to be worn to work.

For the remainder of this year and into 2022, Coresight and Euromonitor predict the casual wear market will dominate total apparel spending. Even as people return to socializing and attending events like weddings and birthday parties.

Greg Shugar, owner of Beau Ties of Vermont and the founder and former CEO of Tie Bar, is anxious about what the shift will mean for his business and for others in the industry.

“Our numbers are extremely off in tailored clothing,” Shugar said. “Our customers who are very loyal have told us, ‘I’m just not going back to work,’ or, ‘I’m just done wearing ties.’ And that spans all generations.”

During the pandemic, Shugar actually shifted manufacturing to make face masks, which helped his company make it through some of the hardest months. Recently, he said, mask sales have started ticking back up, as the delta variant poses a heightened risk for Covid spread across the country.

Greg Shugar, owner of Beau Ties of Vermont and the founder and former CEO of Tie Bar, started selling masks during the pandemic to try to make up for lost sales.

Source: Greg Shugar

“The tailored clothing industry has already suffered enough and is now in even worse trouble,” Shugar said. “And it’s not coming back the way some people think it is.”

Already some businesses, including the suit maker Brooks Brothers, have started to pivot. When it emerged from bankruptcy, the brand was acquired by Sparc, a joint-venture between Authentic Brands Group and mall owner Simon Property Group. Last year, Brooks Brothers debuted its first sportswear and casual wear collection. Banana Republic, which is owned by Gap, also recently launched an athleisure lined called BR Sport.

“There are big implications for retailers and manufacturers on the assortment side,” said Kristin Kohler Burrows, a senior director of Alvarez & Marsal Consumer and Retail Group, a global consultancy specializing in business transformation.

“Retailers definitely need to have more casual items,” she said. “What customers aren’t going to want to sacrifice is feeling comfortable in their clothes.”

M.M.LaFleur, a professional clothing brand for women, is calling the new office wardrobe a form of “hybrid dressing.”

The retailer now offers a weekly guide on its website for outfit options, as its customers are preparing for the “new normal.” “It can sometimes be difficult trying to dress for the office, and working from home,” the blog post reads.

On Monday, it suggested a more casual look — a “jardigan” (half jacket, half cardigan) and sneakers — for working from home after the weekend. Tuesday requires a more elevated look for a day in the office, according to M.M.LaFleur. But come Wednesday, you’re back at home in a cozy sweater.

“The more you are in the office, and the more white-collar office work that you have, you’re going to have more business items in your wardrobe mix,” Burrows said. “But not as much as you had prior to the pandemic.”

M.M.LaFleur is envisioning a world where many office workers split their time between the home and the office. The spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which is causing a surge in new Covid cases, also raises the possibility of delayed return to work plans, or a situation where employees work from the office when cases are low and retreat home when cases rise.

Clothing company Lands’ End has seen higher demand for its activewear and swimsuits this summer. Sales of sleepwear and shirts with knit and stretchy fabrics are also strong relative to other categories, according to CEO Jerome Griffith.

“People are a bit more comfortable in their work environments, whether it be at home or in office, and you’re not going to see those trends change,” Griffith said in an interview. “People won’t go back to being less comfortable.”

Here’s what people are saying they’re buy as they head back, or think about heading back, to the office.

Liza Amlani, 46, a retail strategist in Canada:

Leggings are never going away. I’m seeing a lot of that, for myself and when I’m meeting with clients, because I’ve started to meet with people as patios are open.

People are not really back into their heels, yet. I did wear wedges the other day, so I’m easing myself into it.

Jason Press, 48, a general manager at an auto shop in Chicago:

We are back to normal. It’s all business attire at Murgado Automotive.

I just shopped the Nordstrom Anniversary sale, one of the few stores that still has real business attire, suits and ties. Their inventory went quickly. … I bought Ferragamo shoes. I have a closest full of casual and business casual, and I now need additional real business attire, so that was the focus. My wife and kids shopped, too.

Sean Long, 34, a research associate at an investment management firm in St. Louis, Missouri:

As of May, we are back to business casual from Monday to Thursday, and then can wear jeans on Fridays — assuming we don’t have business or client meeting where a different dress code is warranted.

Business meetings, for the most part, I have noticed no ties. I suspect once in-person meetings and more presentations occur, ties will come back.

My wife and I haven’t been doing much window shopping; we just went to two stores, and they either had it or didn’t and we left.

Gene Miller, 48, a public relations professional in Indianapolis, Indiana:

First day back to the office after Covid-19 restrictions and parental leave, and I’m wearing a new dress. 

We have a dress code that is business casual. I also lost 15 pounds. I’ve been shopping the J.Crew, Banana Republic, Gap and Nordstrom sales.

Manjul Gupta, 38, an associate professor at Florida International University:

When I realized I had to go teach a business course to MBAs, the first thing I opened my closet to look for was my jacket blazer.

I like Express, Banana Republic, and once in a while Macy’s. I hate to say it, but Amazon also has everything. I’ve used Amazon Wardrobe in the past.

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WHO officials try to figure out why delta is so much dangerous than earlier Covid strains

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In this Photo illustration a World Health Organization(WHO) logo seen displayed on an Android phone.

Avishek Das | Getty Images

World Health Organization officials said they are still trying to understand why the delta variant is more transmissible and potentially makes people sicker than the original coronavirus strain.

“We’re really trying to get a better handle on why the delta variant is more transmissible,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’S technical lead on Covid-19, said at a press briefing Friday. “There are certain mutations in the delta variant that, for example, allow the virus to adhere to a cell more easily. There is some laboratory studies that suggest that there’s increased replication in some of the modeled human airway systems.”

New data is emerging around the world on the highly transmissible strain in recent weeks as scientists try to better understand the new threat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned lawmakers Thursday that new research indicates the delta strain is more contagious than swine flu, the common cold and polio. It is as contagious as chickenpox. It also appears to have a longer transmission window than the original Covid-19 strain and may make older people sicker, even if they’ve been fully vaccinated.

The warning on Thursday was made in a confidential document that was reviewed by CNBC and authenticated by the federal health agency.

“The virus itself, as it starts, is a dangerous virus. It’s a highly transmissible virus. The Delta variant is even more so,” Van Kerkhove said. “It’s doubly more transmissible than the ancestral strains.”

WHO officials expect other dangerous variants to also emerge as countries struggle to distribute the life-saving vaccines to their populations.

“They become more fit the more that they circulate and so the virus will likely become more transmissible because this is what viruses do they evolve, they change over time,” Van Kerkhove said.

She said it’s imperative that nations follow public health measures, like practicing social distancing and wearing masks, while nations distribute more vaccines around the world, especially in those with the lowest rates of immunization.

We need “about 70% coverage globally, to really slow down the transmission and reduce the risk of emergence of new variants,” according to Dr. Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to the director-general at WHO.

Still, with current trends, health experts are not optimistic. “This will not be the last virus variant that you hear us talking about,” Van Kerkhove said.

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