It's not terribly surprising to hear baby boomers' investment portfolios look a little different than those of millennials. Risk tolerance changes over time and every generation enjoys its own unique understanding of any given company. There's also some overlap within each age group's picks. For instance, most everyone loves Apple well enough to own it regardless of their age.
But if there's one popular stock pick among baby boomers that doesn't interest nearly as many millennials, it's AT&T (T -0.93%). And these younger investors aren't apt to change their minds anytime soon.
3 reasons millennial investors ignore AT&T's call
Don't misread the message. Millennials aren't entirely unwilling to invest in AT&T. In fact, in Apex Clearing's third-quarter report of the most popular stock picks among millennials, AT&T ranked 15 out of 100. That was better than hot fintech stocks like Square and Shopify, and right in line with Alphabet.
On the flip side, don't be too impressed. A beleaguered Boeing was Q3's 10th-most common holding, and a relatively stodgy (and tepidly performing) Berkshire Hathaway took the 11th spot in millennials' popularity hierarchy. Plus, given that AT&T is a $200 billion behemoth that can be tough for investors to avoid, its spot in the rankings isn't exactly thrilling. It still only accounts for about 1% of all millennial holdings.
The $64,000 question: What is it about the telecom giant that just doesn't excite younger adults?
Obviously, any answers to the question are speculation, and more than one answer may apply. But, the three most plausible answers are anything a stretch.
1. This is an "old school" company in a new world
They're few and far between these days, but when millennials do happen to stumble across a payphone with an AT&T logo affixed to it, it's a reminder that the company's roots are in landlines that mobile phones have made obsolete.
Yet any assumption of obsolescence is misguided. More than 40% of AT&T's revenue comes from its mobile service, and nearly one-fourth of it is driven by its cable television business. Its Warner Media arm is bigger than its lingering business landline operation, and its business landline operation is holding relatively steady. Consumer landlines haven't been a meaningful business for AT&T in a long, long time. Nevertheless, the power of association can be strong.
2. There's no real growth potential
Younger investors more interested in growth and less interested in dividends are wise to steer clear of AT&T, at least for the time being. AT&T doesn't offer much growth, though it does still offer the dividend income the baby boomers and retirees often count on.
That's not to suggest AT&T is incapable of growing its top and bottom lines. In 2019 -- before the COVID-19 pandemic shook things up -- the company's sales grew 6%, and operating income was up 7%. There's little the company can do to pick up that pace, though, particularly given how much of its income is already earmarked for dividends. Of its relatively typical 2019's per-share profits of $3.57, $2.04 was dished right back out to shareholders as it was earned.
3. Millennials aren't fans of its services
Finally, younger investors may be looking past AT&T because they don't particularly care for its flagship services.
The data is admittedly murky and only anecdotal, but broadly speaking, under-40 consumers have been more likely to be customers of Verizon Communication's wireless service. Yet, among those mulling a switch, T-Mobile -- now melded with Sprint -- has been pegged as the company most likely to win over those Verizon defectors; T-Mobile has made a point of lining up plans and packages that appeal to this particular crowd.
Meanwhile, the cable-cord-cutting movement marches on, and AT&T's satellite cable brand DirecTV is losing customers in droves. Another 627,000 AT&T television customers canceled their service just last quarter. Most of these cord-cutters are young adults, as are most the nation's "cord-nevers." But this ultimately makes sense. Millennials are only a bit older than Gen Z, the world's first digitally native generation that grew up in an era where streaming video was just as accessible as traditional cable has been.
If the company can't convince younger investors to become customers, it stands to reason AT&T isn't resonating with enough investors in the same age group either.
Don't sweat it
Given millennials' misgivings about the company, it would be easy for older investors to be worried about their stakes in AT&T as well. Don't be swayed by their apparent doubts, though -- AT&T still has its place in plenty of portfolios, regardless of investor age.
Despite the recent decision to not raise its annual dividend for 2021, it's still a strong dividend payer, and its current dividend yield of 7.3% is still above the market's average payout right now. The company is also in flux, reportedly ready to sell half of its struggling DirecTV unit. Once that's done, AT&T can focus on promoting its young HBO Max streaming service, or at least leveraging it as a customer retention tool.
The point is, following the crowd -- or even just a segment of the crowd -- isn't necessarily the right move for you. If you like AT&T's balance of risk and reward, then by all means own it. If you don't, then don't.