What's got the well-heeled all hot and bothered these days? Is it the price of gold baubles? The estate tax eating away at Grandma's assets? Junior's Ivy League tab? Or is the Hummer (the yellow one) on the fritz again?
Apart from the usual silver-spoon worries, the well-to-do are concerned about terrorism. According to recent results of McDonald Financial Group's quarterly Affluent Consumer Confidence survey, nearly one-third of prosperous survey respondents said terrorism was the main national concern of the day, up from 16% who said so last quarter.
Timing is everything. The polling was done between July 6 and July 15 (the London bombings took place July 7), which could account for heightened jitters. The company's quarterly market sentiment litmus test (conducted by an independent research firm) targets randomly selected individuals with investable assets of $500,000 or more and/or annual income of at least $150,000.
The attacks certainly got their attention. Last quarter, 17% of those polled said the economy was the most important issue facing the country. This quarter, only 11% did, while 55% believe that the government should turn its attention to homeland security rather than the domestic economy.
Cutting back on caviar
Despite concerns about safety and security, the rich are confident that the economy is headed in the right direction. But that doesn't mean that they're putting their money where their survey answers are.
When it comes to everyday spending, the rich are keeping a lid on it. Sixteen percent said they would decrease luxury spending this quarter, whereas only 5% plan to spend more. More than half of respondents said summer vacation spending would remain the same as last year, and 21% will downgrade their accommodations. Just 12% (compared with 15% last quarter) plan to purchase a new car in the next three months.
Shelter and speculation in real estate
This summer it might be EuroDisney again (sorry kids), but affluent Americans are adjusting their investing scrapbook.
More than half predict that the S&P 500 Stock Index will increase in the next three months, yet the number of respondents who plan to increase their investments during the same period is just 23%, compared with 30% of those who indicated in the April survey that they plan to plunk more money into the market.
Real estate's where it's at, according to 35% who feel that investments in the housing market will pay off in the next three months, compared with stocks (24%) or mutual funds (12%). This is despite the fact that more than half of those surveyed predict that the real estate market will crash in the next two years and 24% say the bubble will burst a bit further down the road.
Personal housing has cooled this quarter, however, with new and second home purchases among the affluent down around 6% from 7% last quarter.
Financial fight or flight
Surveys like this are fun for financial rubbernecking. But after you're done sifting through the Joneses' financial diary, what should you do?
Remember, the companies that commission them are interested in identifying consumer trends to better target and serve customers. Then there's the added PR benefit of having the results quoted in the press. (Please, no thank-you cards necessary.) But the findings alone shouldn't drive you to rebalance your portfolio.
Instead of knee-jerk responses (Sell the house! Load up on KB Home (NYSE: KBH ) and Pulte Homes (NYSE: PHM ) stock!), examine the results under a wide-angle consumer lens and look for opportunities -- or even weak spots -- in your own financial plan. Then conduct a personal economic survey.
1. Go through your portfolio and re-evaluate each position. Why did you buy shares in a particular business in the first place? Are the fundamentals still the same? Have outside factors changed the company's prospects for growth? Is this likely to be a short-term setback, or could it affect any long-term positions? A quarterly review of your portfolio will keep you current and help you identify potential problems.
2. Capitalize on trends. Every time you read a sentence that begins, "Surveys reveal that Americans are . ," think opportunity. If the same trends keep popping up in different places, don your investigative reporter outfit and see what all the hubbub's about. Maybe it's real estate now, and the Chinese market in a few months. But don't jump on trends without a thorough background check. That's called speculation, and it's bad for your financial health.
3. Build up your personal defense fund. The rich really aren't that different from you and me. They worry, too. While we are all limited in our abilities to thwart terrorism, each one of us has some degree of real control over our personal destiny. Financial security is a big part of feeling safe and prepared. A game of "Worst-Case Scenario" will reveal where your financial preparations fall short. Don't get overwhelmed -- a simple four-step plan will help you tackle the dreaded details so you can get back to "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" reruns.
For more Foolish trend-spotting, click on:
- A Cautious 2005 Outlook
- Ignore the Retail Doomsayers
- The Economy: A Growth Industry?
- Market Jittery? Invest Defensively
- Nailing the Housing Market
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