Despite volatility, wealthy investors plan no money moves, survey says

Overall, these investors do have a positive outlook on the U.S. economy. They are worried more about politics than stocks. The survey was conducted between Nov. 7 and Nov. 19, so it did precede December, which has been the worst December for the market since 1931. A January reckoning for many investors may still be coming.

“The thing that stands out to me is that millionaires 55 and older barely changed their equity allocations over the last year while stocks were generally in a downtrend,” said Mitch Goldberg, president of investment advisory firm ClientFirst Strategy. “The older two age brackets also held their fixed income allocations fairly stable during the last year, which is a bit surprising. You’d expect to see an increase in this asset class as the stock market trended lower. Then again, these groups have a lot more experience with volatility and they are not as easily deterred from their allocations.”

Goldberg said many investors who don’t check their portfolio values on a daily basis are still working off numbers in Sept. 30 portfolio statements, and those statements would have likely shown gains for the year. The December-end statements are going to present the first annual loss many investors have seen in a long time, and that may lead to a reevaluation, especially when combined with the impact of the tax law changes and loss of many valuable deductions that will become more apparent as tax filing season begins, and other negative signals from the financial markets.

“For high earners in nearly any state that has a state income tax, the loss of the SALT deduction could mean they face a higher tax bill. We just won’t know for sure until after April 15 exactly how much this affects them. Then there is weakness in the housing market, which could affect anyone’s personal wealth affect. Throw into the mix stats that point to a slowing global economy and no end in the trade war with China and we could really start to see those equity allocations come down.”

Rash moves are a bad thing — but a reevaluation isn’t. Market conditions have been so strong over the past decade that advisors have been forced to talk to clients about risk in the abstract, which never works as well as the real thing.

“Ideally, investors would simply pick the right allocation for their risk tolerance and goals and simply rebalance either periodically or based on changes to their allocation ranges because of market movement. With the Dow and S&P down by 10 percent each so far this month, investors are going to see the biggest drop in account value since at least 2016. We’ll see if that could shake investors out of their allocations,” Goldberg said.

Tucci said when risk actually returns to the market, it is a good time to go back and evaluate a plan and look at how much risk an investor can tolerate. But looking to the latest market panic-headlines is not where to begin.

“Flows are a good contrarian indicator to what you should be doing,” Tucci said. “I always hate selling into bad times.”

CNBC Millionaire Survey
is conducted twice a year in the Spring and Fall. The Fall 2018 survey was conducted between Nov. 7 and Nov. 19 among 750 investors with $1 million or more of investable assets. Respondents are required to be the financial decision-maker or share jointly in financial decision-making within the household.

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