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Consumer Confidence Rising, But Investors Still Skittish

Measures of consumer and investor confidence are rising rapidly, but wealth managers say their clients aren’t completely on board yet.

Measures of consumer and investor confidence are rising rapidly, but wealth managers say their clients aren’t completely on board yet.

The Spectrem Affluent Investor Confidence Index released Wednesday rose five points in January to reach its highest level in three years, and the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index climbed 14 percent this month, rising to 60.6 in January from 53.3 in December.

Meanwhile, over half of investors (55 percent) with $1 million or more in investible assets surveyed by Phoenix Marketing International’s Affluent Market Practice now say they’re optimistic about the near-term for the economy, up from 49 percent in October 2010 and a low of 39 percent in August.

Nearly half (48 percent) of these millionaire investors say they plan to make net increases to their investments in the next three months, the highest percentage recorded by the Phoenix survey in over three years.

In addition, the most recent weekly survey of members of the American Association of Individual Investors showed that over half of those participating in the Investors Intelligence Survey were bullish on the stock market over the next six months, the highest percentage in over two years.

Wealth Managers: Clients Remain Wary

But wealth managers say their clients, who typically have at least $1 million in investable assets, are still wary. They haven’t forgotten the sting of the financial crisis.

“Investors are marginally more confident, and many feel like the crisis is behind us, but I wouldn’t say people are wildly bullish,” said Paul Tramontano, chief executive of New York based Constellation Wealth Advisors, which has approximately $4 billion in assets under management.

While high and ultra-high net worth investors in Texas aren’t optimistic about the economy, they are “more open to deploying capital,” said Jeffrey Rupp, managing director of Bluffview Wealth Management in Dallas, which has about $1 billion in AUM. “Clients are concerned about the massive macro-economic problems facing the country, but at the same time they’re beginning to move out of cash and telling us to find opportunities in the market.”

Even the ultra wealthy, who didn’t necessarily lose all that much wealth in the crash, are still skittish. In Silicon Valley, one of the most prosperous wealth management markets in the country, for example, investors are still playing it safe, says Menlo Park-based Alan Zafran, partner and co-founder of Luminous, which has about $4 billion in AUM.

“People become conservative when they have something to conserve,” Zafran said. “And even if wealthy people didn’t lose money [during the crash] they saw others who did and were deeply affected. It has left a lasting impression on their risk tolerance going forward.”

Behavioral finance is the key to understanding wealthy clients in the current investing climate, maintained Tony Guernsey, New York-based chief client officer for Wilmington Trust. Many wealthy clients were emotionally battered by the market’s plunge in 2008 and 2009 he said, “and don’t understand their behavior when making investments. They will say they are aggressive investors, but they really aren’t.”

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