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Which Financial Assets Do Americans Own?

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Which Financial Assets Do Americans Own?

Financial Assets

Which Financial Assets Do Americans Own?

Like ingredients in a recipe, there are many different assets that can be combined to form household wealth. One subgroup is financial assets, which are non-physical assets such as bank deposits or stocks. However, some financial assets are much more common than others.

In this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we look at the percentage of families who own each type of financial asset.

Types of Financial Assets by Popularity

The U.S. Federal Reserve surveyed over 128 million families on their finances, including one-person households. Here is the percentage of families that hold each type of financial asset, along with the median and average values held.

The large differences between median and average values are due to some upper income households owning a highly disproportionate share of financial assets.

 Percent holdingMedian valueAverage value
Transaction accounts98.2%$5,300$41,700
Retirement accounts50.5%$65,000$255,200
Cash value life insurance19.0%$9,000$41,000
Directly-owned stocks15.2%$25,000$348,500
Pooled investment funds9.0%$110,000$854,300
Certificates of deposit7.7%$25,000$102,000
Savings bonds7.5%$800$8,500
Other7.4%$4,000$73,800
Other managed assets5.9%$115,000$512,200
Directly-owned bonds1.1%$121,000$653,600

Note: Data as of 2019. Other managed assets include personal annuities, trusts with an equity interest, and managed investment accounts. Other assets include oil and gas leases, futures contracts, royalties, proceeds from lawsuits or estates in settlement, and loans made to others. Employment-related stock options are excluded due to the uncertainty of their value until the exercise date.

Transaction accounts—such as checking, savings, and money market accounts—are owned by almost all Americans. In addition, the median value of transaction accounts rose 11% from 2016 to 2019, suggesting that Americans are holding more cash.

The second most common financial asset is retirement accounts, which includes individual accounts, Keogh accounts for self-employed people, and certain employer-sponsored accounts. Retirement accounts can hold almost any asset type, such as stocks, bonds, pooled investment funds, options, and real estate.

Only 15% of families hold directly-owned stocks. This excludes indirect holdings in pooled investment funds, retirement accounts, and other managed assets. When indirect holdings are included, the proportion of American households owning stock rises to 53%.

Stock Ownership Over Time

How has stock ownership changed compared to previous years? Over the last three decades, the percentage of families owning directly and indirectly held stocks has increased by over 20%.

U.S. Stock Ownership Over Time

Stock ownership declined slightly after the 2001 dotcom bubble burst and the 2008 global financial crisis. It’s likely that some investors fell victim to emotion and sold at a loss when stocks dropped. After initial reluctance to re-enter the market, ownership climbed in both cases. However, it has not yet exceeded its 2007 peak.

Notably, while more upper income households own stock, their ownership levels declined slightly from 2016 to 2019. Over the same timeframe, families in the bottom half of the income distribution saw a rise in stock ownership.

Diversifying Potential Sources of Wealth

Almost all families own transaction accounts, but fewer families own other financial assets such as bonds, stocks, and retirement accounts.

In order to diversify their portfolios and maximize their wealth-building potential, families may want to consider broadening the account types and asset classes that they own.

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Markets in a Minute

Four Types of ESG Strategies for Investors

Amid a global wave of green investment, this graphic breaks down four types of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies.

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ESG Strategies

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Four Types of ESG Strategies for Investors

In recent years, sustainable investment strategies have shown a number of benefits for investors, from resilience in market downturns to share outperformance in the long-term.

Meanwhile, investor interest has skyrocketed—with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) indexes advancing 40% between 2019 and 2020 alone. Given the increased demand for green investments, investors have an ever-expanding list of options to choose from. But what ESG approach is the right fit for you?

To answer this question, this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments looks at the primary strategies used in ESG investing to help investors choose the approach that works best for their portfolio.

What Kind of Investor are You?

Broadly speaking, there are four main approaches to ESG investing: ESG integration, exclusionary investing, inclusionary investing, and impact investing.

1. ESG Integration

“I want to integrate ESG factors and traditional factors to assess the risk/reward profile of my investment.”

For example, using an ESG integration approach, a company’s water usage and toxic emissions would be assessed against financial factors to analyze any future risks or investment opportunities.

2. Exclusionary Investing

“I want to screen out controversial companies or sectors that do not meet my sustainability criteria.”

Using an exclusionary investing approach, an investor may screen out companies whose revenues are from tobacco, gambling, or fossil fuels.

Related ESG Terms:

  • Negative Screening
  • Negative Selection
  • Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)

3. Inclusionary Investing

“I want to seek out companies that are ranked highly in their sector based on sustainability criteria.”

With an inclusionary approach, a fund may include the leading companies in a sector, relative to their peers, such as the top performing tech companies in ESG.

Related ESG Terms:

  • Positive Screening
  • Positive Selection
  • Best-In-Class
  • Positive Tilt
  • Thematic Investing

4. Impact Investing

“I want to invest in companies that attempt to deliver a measurable social and/or environmental impact alongside financial returns.”

Lastly, impact investing approaches may focus specifically on renewable energy companies that have the intent to make a positive environmental impact.

Related ESG Terms:

  • Goal-Based Investing
  • Thematic Investing

ESG Investing Strategies, By Market

How does interest in ESG strategies vary according to geographical region? Overall, interest has increased across all regions globally (where data was available).

Interest in ESG By Market*20182020
India98%100%
Mainland China95%98%
UAE90%94%
MexicoN/A92%
France79%91%
Brazil82%90%
JapanN/A88%
Hong Kong, SAR China71%86%
South AfricaN/A83%
Germany64%81%
Singapore77%78%
United Kingdom51%77%
Canada49%68%
Australia49%65%
U.S.49%57%

*With interest in these strategies and already employing them
Source: CFA Institute (Dec, 2020)

At the top was India, where 100% of respondents expressed interest or were already using ESG strategies—up from 96% in 2018.

In fact, India developed National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental, and Economic Responsibilities of Business as far back as 2011. This was designed as a guideline for responsible business conduct, which later aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2016.

Following closely behind were investors in China (98%) and UAE (94%).

By contrast, 57% of investors in the U.S. employed ESG strategies—the lowest among geographic regions. Despite this, in the last two years, this figure jumped 8%, and it may rise higher yet given U.S. president Joe Biden’s new climate priorities. Electric grid and clean energy, decarbonization, and electric vehicle incentives all fall under a massive $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which will likely have a significant impact on the dialogue surrounding ESG.

Going Green

As the global drive for ESG investment continues to rise, investors can harness a greater understanding of different ESG strategies to meet their personal objectives—whether it is risk/reward analysis, seeking out ESG top performers, or a measurable environmental impact.

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Markets in a Minute

Visualizing U.S. Stock Ownership Over Time (1965-2019)

The proportion of U.S. stock owned by foreigners has climbed to 40%, while U.S. stock ownership within taxable accounts has decreased.

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Stock Ownership

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U.S. Stock Ownership Over Time (1965-2019)

The U.S. stock market is the largest in the world, with total U.S. stock ownership amounting to almost $40 trillion in 2019. But who owns all these equities?

In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we show the percentage of U.S. stock owned by various groups, and how the proportions have changed over time.

The Groups Who Own U.S. Stock

Based on calculations from the Tax Policy Center, here is the breakdown of U.S. stock ownership as of the year 2019.

CategoryShare of U.S. StockValue
Foreigners40%$16.0T
Retirement accounts30%$12.0T
Taxable accounts24%$9.5T
Non-profits5%$2.0T
Government1%$368B

Foreigners own the most U.S. stock. Their portion of ownership has grown rapidly, climbing from about 5% in 1965 to 40% in 2019. Foreign ownership exists in two forms: portfolio holdings and foreign direct investment. The former includes holdings with less than 10% of voting stock, while the latter refers to voting stock of 10% or more.

Why has foreign ownership increased so substantially? According to the Tax Policy Center, the growth appears unrelated to U.S. corporate tax rates. Instead, the increase is likely a result of globalization, as U.S. holdings of foreign stock climbed at a similar rate over the same timeframe.

Outside of foreigners, the largest domestic ownership groups are retirement accounts and taxable accounts. Stock ownership within taxable accounts has decreased by 56 percentage points since 1965. On the flip side, U.S. households have increased stock ownership within tax-advantaged retirement accounts, which now amounts to 30% of all U.S. stock holdings.

Retirement Accounts: A Closer Look

The proportion of U.S. stock held in defined benefit plans has decreased substantially since 1965.

U.S. Stock Ownership in Retirement Accounts

Note: life insurance separate accounts are reserves that fund annuities or life insurance policies.

This drop is partly due to the general decline in private employers offering defined benefit plans. Since these pension plans guarantee employees a set amount in retirement, they present a large long-term funding burden.

At the same time, there has been a corresponding increase in U.S. stock ownership within defined contribution plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). This reflects the fact that many investors are facing more responsibility, as they must take charge of their portfolios in order to build a sufficient nest egg for retirement.

The Future of U.S. Stock Ownership

Compared to 50 years ago, the composition of U.S. stock ownership today looks very different.

Foreign ownership has increased as globalization took hold, though it’s hard to say if this rise will continue. Since 2017, foreign direct investment in the U.S. has decreased. Not only that, China surpassed the U.S. as the top destination for foreign direct investment in 2020.

In addition, the shift to particular tax-advantaged retirement accounts has been a relatively recent one. For instance, IRAs didn’t exist before 1978, and defined contribution plans started becoming popular in 1980. As circumstances continue to evolve, how will U.S. stock ownership change over the next 50 years?

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