Global Stock Market

How these teens are having fun in today’s stock market, and, for the most part, making money

A year ago, as the stock market buckled under weight of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic and many investors dived for cover, Christon “The Truth” Jones snapped up Tesla shares, the savviest move of the eighth-grader’s five-year trading career.

Stock in the electric-car maker
tumbled to around $72 in those dark March days but rebounded to nearly $300 by July. Jones, who shares an account with his mother, Janel Jones, had tucked away that purchase and forgotten it.

“This was a different account that we hadn’t been tracking as much, and when we eventually checked this account we saw how much we were up. I remember my mom called me — she’s like, ‘Should we get out? Should we get out?’ I said, ‘No, no, no, let Tesla ride a little bit,’ ” the 14-year-old Atlantan recalls in an interview with MarketWatch.

In the end, he and his mom netted $78,000 off a single options contract. “People focus on the money, but it was really because it was one contract. That was what was amazing to us,” says Christon’s mother, Janel.

The stock itself is currently at $560, down from its all-time high near $900 in early January.

Read: The stock market’s COVID meltdown began a year ago today: Here’s how every major asset has performed since then

He’s one of many kid investors out there who seem knowledgeable beyond their years. According to a Deutsche Bank survey, a new wave of younger traders has grown during the pandemic, though the under-18 crowd, sprinkled across social media, is less easy to track. As for the rules, minors in the U.S. can only trade or invest via a custodial account supervised by a parent or guardian.

Jones got his trading bug at 9 years old from a YouTube video, convincing his mom to let him buy a few shares of Amazon
which he thought would be “a good long-term investment” because “everyone,” he had observed, uses the online retailer. He funded those early trades with earnings from a book he’d written about bullying in youth sports, “The Win Within.”

He then moved to options, helped by his mom, who used football analogies to explain, and learned alongside him.

Jones bases his stock picks on “where the world is going,” which has led them to companies like electronic-signature group DocuSign
and streaming digital player Roku
as well as the pharmaceutical and artificial-intelligence spaces — chip group Nvidia
is currently on his radar for its “innovation, specifically its smart cities” and “solid numbers.”

Jones, whose first love remains football, hopes to one day combine his passions via a hedge fund helping professional athletes manage their money. The honor-roll student and gridiron star offers how-to investing courses through his own company, Return on Investment LLC.

Weekend at Buffett’s

Not many teens would make it a point to squeeze legendary investor Warren Buffett into their weekends, but, then, Srivatsan Prakash is no ordinary 17-year-old.

Described as an “aspiring fund manager” on his Twitter account, Prakash told MarketWatch that the investing world drew him in at 13. He would pore over autobiographies by famed Berkshire Hathaway

chairman Buffett and Microsoft
co-founder Bill Gates as well as the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by entrepreneur Robert Kiyosaki, to learn about their successful strategies.

The Tell (April 2020): ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ Robert Kiyosaki: Don’t save your money! Spend it on the ‘best buy for future security’

The Toronto teen buried his nose in Berkshire’s recent annual letter to shareholders and highlighted some big takeaways: “Never bet against America,” and everyone makes mistakes.

Prakash also has an entrepreneurial spirit, funding early trades from a graphic-design business via Instagram. He saw success with his first stock, coffee giant Starbucks
which he bought in mid-2018 for $53 a share then sold when it hit $87 in mid-2019.

Of course fortune has shone on U.S. stocks more generally over much of that period. The broad benchmark S&P 500
for example, has gained 40% since the midpoint of 2018.

Read: 2020 saw a surge in new businesses — get the help you need to launch your own

The quick 60% profit from the Starbucks investment led to an early mistake for Prakash. He got overconfident after that trade and began shorting stocks he thought were overvalued, only to end up losing part of his Starbucks profit as the market moved against him. Yet he’s grateful for the early fail.

“That was sort of my first lesson in bubbles and, you know, not shorting irrationally,” he says, and it marked the point at which he started using stop losses, which help traders limit trading exposure.

Prakash says he’s currently in the middle of what he calls his best trade, RealNetworks
best known for its early streaming media technology and now facial-recognition software. Those shares have been rising since he bought them last year. It falls in a category that he likes: smaller companies ignored by Wall Street.

Growth potential for microcaps and small-cap stocks often gets overlooked, and the research can be intensive, but “the rewards are better,” he says, noting that Buffett has also doled out that advice.

“I just find analyzing numbers, and intellectual pursuits as a whole, interesting and exciting,” says the teen, who dabbles in stocks, options, currencies and bonds, and says his school grades are “decent.”

He currently hosts his own podcast, Market Champions, where he has interviewed famed investor Jim Rogers, among others. He hopes to one day have his own hedge fund and retire at around 35. His advice to aspiring investors? “Don’t go into things you don’t understand, and keep reading the great investors, as it is “a long, long journey.”

Read: Day-trading Redditors nearly crashed the stock market. Now they’ve been packaged into a new ETF

A couple of TikTokers

Teamed with her 17-year-old boyfriend Adi Adara, 19-year-old Parii Bafna is ready to make her mark on a new generation of investors. The young Minneapolis pair has over 800,000 followers and 18.1 million liked videos on their personal-finance-themed TikTok account.

Adara and Bafna had both gotten hooked on investing years earlier through Virtual Stock Exchange simulation games on MarketWatch’s website. Adara says he “became obsessed and probably spent all my class time trying to choose stocks.”

The pair started to step up their investing roughly a year and a half ago — finding, like many, the pandemic had afforded them additional time for the endeavor. Bafna recently dropped out during her freshman year of college, after finding it too hard to juggle the couple’s content-creation business with classes. Affiliate marketing on TikTok is one income stream for them.

Noting that both sets of parents have been supportive of them, Bafna says she plans to resume her formal education at some point but says she’s now “looking at better opportunities than I would have gotten in college.”

Read: GameStop hearing challenges assumptions about rookie investors: ‘Retail investors making up this new surge are different’

The investment frenzy around videogames retailer GameStop
and other heavily shorted stocks earlier this year rang some familiar bells for the pair, who had cut their teeth on penny stocks, getting stressed out “trying to ride all these waves,” recalls Adara.

Poor trades include investing in Marathon Oil
just before the virus hit.

The young investors now make it a point to scrutinize the long-term cash flows of companies and apply lessons learned from Buffett about interpreting financial statements. “Does the company have durable competitive advantage?” is a huge one for them.

which works with big companies to offer employee maternity and paternity benefits, is one of their top picks right now. Exchange-traded funds like ARK Innovation ETF 
and SPDR S&P 500 ETF
which tracks the benchmark U.S. stock index, have also been paying off in a rising market. They have seen positive returns on investments in tech giants Apple
and Microsoft
while e-commerce group Shopify
an “impulsive” buy from last year, has just started to turn positive, says Bafna.

Read: Cathie Wood’s highflying ARK ETF just entered a bear market — a sign of the times?

For the next five years, they hope to “fill the void” of investing information available to a younger generation, especially in the wake of the GameStop saga. “I think we’re both going toward that space to teach Gen Z because, first of all, school isn’t doing a good job. And, secondly, there is a ton of information on the internet that just needs to be curated and fed out in a fast, simple manner,” says Bafna.

As for advice to even-younger trading enthusiasts? “Just start, even if it’s the smallest, smallest, smallest amount — just familiarize yourself and get used to it because it’s not going to go away soon,” says Bafna. Adds Adara: “Starting early gives you that confidence boost. … The advice that I would give is start with something you know.”

The Margin (January 2021): Texas fifth-grader cashes in the GameStop shares his mom gave him for Kwanzaa — for almost $3,200

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