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Wealthy investors optimistic but nervous over politics and trade: UBS survey

Javier E. David
Editor focused on markets and the economy

Business owners and wealthy investors are relatively constructive about the economic outlook — yet the ongoing U.S.-China trade war and political uncertainty is prompting more of them to hold more money in cash, according to a new survey by UBS Global Wealth Management.

In a quarterly survey, the Swiss banking giant’s wealth management arm polled over 4,600 investors and businesspeople in 18 countries, revealing that “tempered optimism” is the order of the day among the investing class. In spite of polarized electorates, volatile markets and no immediate let-up in the Sino-American trade dispute, the survey showed 53% worldwide are optimistic about the global economy. Meanwhile, some 61% were bullish on their own region’s economy — with Asia having the brightest outlook.

Meanwhile, UBS’s data found that more investors were more unnerved by political instability in their home countries than a trade war. With the U.K.’s fractious effort to divorce itself from the European Union, an impeachment inquiry swirling around President Donald Trump, and other flashpoints mounting, 47% of respondents said politics was a concern — with that percentage even higher in the U.S. (60%).

People stand near an electronic stock board showing Japan's Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. Asian shares were mixed Friday, after Wall Street indexes posted modest gains, cheered by solid profits and forecasts from U.S. technology companies. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

“Geopolitical concerns such as the global trade war are keeping investor optimism in check,” said Paula Polito, UBS’s client strategy officer. “There is a dichotomy in sentiment — investors are holding large cash balances in a wait-and-see mode, even though nearly 50% anticipate higher stock market returns in the next six months.”

The shift to cash

Still, UBS revealed some pockets of concern for investors, both regionally and globally. As the trade war amplifies global recession fears, a whopping 73% of respondents say they’ve been whipsawed by the volatile market — and more are shifting money to cash in a bid for liquidity.

Although a separate report in September showed retail investors recently moving more money into stocks, the shift to cash has become “the most popular reaction to trade developments among [wealthy] respondents,” UBS noted. In fact, nearly half of those investors believe the U.S.-China dispute will have negative implications on U.S. growth — and 52% believe it will eventually hit China’s domestic economy. Just this week, the world’s second-largest economy reported its slowest rate of growth since 1992 at 6%.

Recent data from Bank of America-Merrill Lynch shows that hedge fund managers are fearing negative growth at levels not seen since the 2008 financial crisis — and some of that fear was evident in UBS’s own survey. Among entrepreneurs and investors, 44% think a recession is “highly likely” within the next 6 months.

And those concerns are translating into muted hiring plans. UBS found that 34% are planning to create new jobs, a percentage that fell 5 points from the last survey.

Javier David is an editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow Javier on Twitter: @TeflonGeek

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