The ongoing budget battle and debate over raising the debt ceiling in advance of the Aug. 2 deadline plays into the most serious concerns of the Ultra High Net worth Investor. In our 2011 wealth level study of households with a net worth between $5 million and $24.9 million (not including primary residence), 81 percent said that the national debt was their primary concern.
The government hit its $14.3 trillion borrowing limit in May, and unless Democrats and Republicans can agree on a budget proposal before the deadline set by the Treasury Department, the United States risks defaulting on its obligations. In a press conference last week, President Obama warned of greater unemployment and “effectively a tax increase on everybody” in the form of higher interest rates.
Tax increases are another of the top concerns for nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of UHNW investors. An equal percentage also say they are concerned about the political environment, which has grown increasingly contentious during the debt ceiling talks, not to mention the partisan rhetoric as announced (and unannounced) Republican presidential candidates step up their criticisms of the president.
Republicans are holding firm in their resolve to accompany any debt ceiling increase with spending cuts. They are rejecting any tax increases that the President and Democrats may propose. The stakes are being raised with each passing day. Last week, Moody’s Investors Service said it will consider downgrading the United States’ credit rating. Standards & Poor’s, too, said there is a 50-50 chance that the U.S. will lose its top credit rating should Congress not be able to reach an agreement.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, testifying last week before the Senate Banking Committee also warned members of Congress that delays in raising the government’s borrowing limit would deliver a “self-inflicted” wound to the nation’s economy. It would be a calamitous outcome,” he said. ‘A default on (Treasury) securities would throw the financial system potentially into chaos.”
UHNW investors are taking these cautions to heart. Sixty-nine percent of those we surveyed are concerned about a prolonged economic downturn.
Boomers ages 55-64 are the most concerned at this wealth level about the prolonged economic downturn that may be wreaking havoc with their plans to retire. Across the age levels of this wealth group, the oldest baby boomers—over the age of 65—are more concerned about the national debt and the political environment than their younger counterparts.