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U.S. Investors Grow More Pessimistic as Fiscal Cliff Looms

U.S. Investors Grow More Pessimistic as Fiscal Cliff Looms

by Dennis Jacobe

PRINCETON, NJ -- The Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index turned negative at -8 in November, down from double-digit positive scores earlier in 2012. Investors are now as pessimistic about the economy as they were a year ago after the debt ceiling debate, when the index was at -9.

Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index, Selected Trend

The Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index is a broad measure of investor perceptions that tends to be a precursor of economic activity. This quarterly survey was most recently conducted Nov. 9-17, 2012, with a random sample of 1,024 investors. The index peaked at 178 in January 2000, just before the dot-com bubble burst, and hit a low at -64 in February 2009, just before the equity markets hit bottom in March 2009.

One reason for the current increased pessimism is the looming fiscal cliff. In mid-November, 69% of U.S. investors thought the fiscal cliff was already slowing the economy. Seventy percent believed going over the cliff would send the economy into another deep recession in 2013.

Two in Three Say Politically Divided Federal Gov't, Federal Deficit Hurting Investment Climate "a Lot"

Investors point to a politically divided federal government (69%) and the federal budget deficit (69%) as top factors affecting the U.S. investment climate, saying they are hurting it "a lot." Close behind are the unemployment rate (67%) and the global economic slowdown (63%). Investors are less concerned about credit availability and home values.

Now I am going to read you some possible situations that could affect the investment climate in the United States. For each one, please tell me whether you think that situation is hurting the investment climate in the United States a lot, hurting it a little, having no effect on it, helping it a little, or helping the investment climate a lot? November 2012 results

New Jobs and Federal Deficit Are Top Priorities for 2013

Investors are acutely aware of the impact of this year's presidential and congressional election results, with eight in 10 saying those results will have a major (43%) or minor (37%) impact on their net worth. Investors say the top priorities for the president and Congress in 2013 should be creating new jobs, at 89%, followed by addressing the federal deficit and federal debt, at 82%. Addressing international terrorism (68%), developing a new federal tax policy (63%), strengthening Medicare and Medicaid (60%), and strengthening federal support of education (59%) round out investors' top priorities.

Thinking about the priorities of the president and Congress for 2013, for each of the following potential actions, please tell me whether you think it should be a top priority of the president and Congress, a secondary priority, or no priuority at all? November 2012 results


Investors are greatly concerned about today's politically divided federal government as reflected by their ranking it as one of the two top factors hurting the U.S. investment climate a lot. In turn, they seem to recognize the resulting difficulty in making things happen in the nation's capital. They are also worried about the fiscal cliff and its future, as well as current, economic impact. The flood of special dividends by the nation's corporations is an obvious example of corporate tax management in anticipation of higher taxes on future dividends. Similarly, individual investors are bringing income into 2012 in anticipation of higher capital gains taxes next year. Less obvious are the ways companies are putting their capital investment and hiring decisions on hold as the fiscal cliff approaches.

In this regard, the fiscal cliff issue has not yet reached the level of concern exhibited last year regarding the federal debt ceiling. Just after the peak of that confrontation in Washington, D.C., investor pessimism reached -45 -- far worse than the current -8 reading. Still, there are several weeks left in the year for the fiscal cliff debate, and investor optimism could decline further if the nation goes over the cliff.

Regardless, it is important to note that -- unlike the debt ceiling -- any fiscal cliff agreement will have real-world consequences for the average American. These could include significant tax increases not only on those with higher incomes, but also in terms of payroll taxes, dividend taxes, and capital gains taxes on those in other income categories. Further, significant cuts in federal expenditures for defense, unemployment insurance, and other government programs could also be included.

In turn, these potential tax increases and spending cuts are likely to slow consumer and business spending in the already stalling economy of late 2012. As investors note, the fiscal cliff is already affecting the U.S. economy. No matter how it is resolved, the fiscal cliff is also likely to affect early 2013.

Survey Methods

The Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index results are based on questions asked on the Gallup Daily tracking survey of a random sample of 1,025 U.S. adults having investable assets of $10,000 or more from Nov. 9-17, 2012. For results based on the entire sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage point.

For results based on the sample of 625 non-retirees, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. For results based on 394 retirees, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cellphone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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