Energy prices, the federal deficit and unemployment are the three key factors that caused U.S. investor optimism to decline in May, according to the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index, which dropped to 33 from 42 in February, when the survey was last taken. The Index’s decline was driven by non-retirees, whose score fell to 24 in May from February’s 35, Gallup said in a statement. Retirees’ optimism was unchanged at 61.
The Index, Gallup said, is “a broad measure of investor perceptions that tends to be a precursor of future economic activity and is consistent with a future decline in the overall U.S. economy.” The Index peaked at 178 in January 2000, just before the dot-com bubble burst. It reached a record low of -64 in February 2009 just before the equity markets reached bottom that March.
A random sample of 1,099 U.S. adults with investible assets of $10,000 or more were asked to evaluate the impact of 15 factors on the U.S. investment climate. The price of energy, including gas and oil, rose the most dramatically from 60 percent in February to 79 percent. Concern over the federal deficit, which has implications for the investment climate, increased from 71 percent to 75 percent. Surprisingly, investor concern about unemployment dropped from 71 to 67. However, this survey was taken before the most recent national unemployment figure of 9 percent was announced.
Concern over the financial condition of state and local governments was unchanged at 58 percent.
Gallup’s polling data coincides with similar attitudes revealed by Spectrem Group research across wealth levels. In Mass Affluent households with a net worth between $500,000 and $1 million (not including primary residence), nearly three-quarters (74 percent) are most concerned about a prolonged economic downturn, while 73 percent are most concerned about the national debt, and 70 percent are concerned about tax increases. Sixty-six percent are wary about the political environment.
Millionaire households polled by Spectrem are more concerned with the political environment (72 percent) than they are with a continued economic downturn (70 percent), while Ultra High Net Worth households with a net worth between $5 million and $4.9 million (NIPR) rank tax increases (73 percent) second on their list of national concerns behind the national debt (81 percent).
Another Spectrem survey of investors with $500,000 of investible assets and $1 million of financial assets, respectively, the political environment and gas and oil prices were the news stories they are following most closely.
And while Spectrem’s Millionaire Investor Confidence Index (SMICI)sm and Spectrem’s Affluent Investor Confidence Index (SAICI)sm both posted increases last month—2 points and nine points, respectively, both remained in neutral territory.
Is the U.S. economy is experiencing a temporary “soft patch” impacted by such factors as severe weather in the U.S., the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and high gas prices? Or do investor’s declined or tempered optimism coupled with continued declines in the stock market suggest that investors do not think these issues are temporary?