Individual Investors Retreat from Markets After Show-Stopping Start to 2021

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Individual investors kicked off 2021 at a sprinter’s pace. Now, they are finally showing signs of fatigue.

Trading activity among nonprofessional investors has slowed in recent weeks after a blockbuster start to the year, with the group plowing less money into everything from U.S. stocks to bullish call options. Daily average trades for at least two online brokerages have edged down from their 2021 highs. And across the industry, traffic to brokerage websites, as well as the amount of time spent on them, has fallen.

Individual purchases of stocks were down 60% on a net basis near the end of March and traffic to retail brokerage sites has tumbled, with visits to Robin Hood’s down 63%.

The decline in enthusiasm marks a sharp reversal from just a few months ago, when individual investors’ frenetic activity took center stage in financial markets. As shares of “meme stocks” soared in January, millions of small investors piled in, kicking an already robust retail-investing trend into overdrive. In a mania unlike anything market observers had ever seen, individual investors sent stocks like GameStop Corp. soaring, pushing brokerage platforms to the top of app-store rankings. Trading volume surged so much that many brokerages struggled to keep their platforms smoothly running.

Driving the recent pullback, individual investors and analysts say, is a series of factors, including concerns about the volatility among growth stocks—a group in which small investors tend to be heavily invested. Since Feb. 12, when the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite hit its most recent record, individual-investor favorites including Tesla Inc., NIO Inc. and Apple Inc. have each fallen more than 9%.

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