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Investor Optimism Keeps Improving, Highest Since 2000

Investor Optimism Keeps Improving, Highest Since 2000

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Index gained 30 points this quarter, to +126
  • Confidence increased most on stock market, economic growth
  • Republican investors maintain especially high confidence

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. investor optimism about the nation's investing climate jumped markedly in the first quarter, following steady gains throughout 2016. The Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index stands at +126, up from +96 in the fourth quarter of 2016 and +40 a year ago.

graph 1

Steady improvements in investor confidence over the past year have driven the index to its highest point since +130 in November 2000, toward the end of the dot-com boom.

The latest results are based on the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey, conducted Feb. 10-19 as the Dow Jones industrial average first crossed the 20,000 threshold. The survey reflects the views of U.S. investors with $10,000 or more invested in stocks, bonds or mutual funds.

The Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index has been conducted quarterly since 2011. Before that, it was conducted monthly from October 1996 through October 2009. The index has a theoretical range of +400 to -400, but in practice has ranged from +178 at its highest in January 2000 to -64 at its lowest in February 2009.

Investors' Confidence in Economic Factors Surges

The index reflects two aspects of investor confidence encompassing seven different measures:

  • investors' outlook for three personal financial matters, including their income, their 12-month investment targets and their five-year investment goals
  • their outlook for four aspects of the economy, including the stock market, economic growth, unemployment and inflation

Investor optimism improved on all seven measures but rose the most on the stock market (with net confidence up 15 points) and economic growth (up 11 points). This likely reflects the market reaching a new record high in February, as well as the broader improvement in the public's attitudes about the economy evident since the presidential election.

Net Optimism on Index Components
% Optimistic minus % Pessimistic
Q4 2016 Q1 2017 Q1 change
Economic dimension
Stock market performance +30 +45 +15
Economic growth +30 +41 +11
Unemployment +25 +32 +7
Inflation +1 +8 +7
Personal dimension
Household income +54 +60 +6
Five-year investment goals +48 +52 +4
12-month investment targets +37 +42 +5
Wells Fargo/Gallup

Relatedly, the entire economic dimension of the index rose 20 points this quarter to +46, while confidence in the personal dimension rose 12 points to +80.

Over the years, investors have consistently shown more confidence in the personal dimension of the index than in the economic dimension. However, the 34-point gap between the two this quarter is below the average 51-point gap since 1996. That is because increases in the personal dimension over the past year have not kept up with gains in the economic dimension. In the past, when confidence in the economic dimension was near the current level of +46, confidence in the economic dimension was generally above +90, a bit better than today's +80.

Graph 2

Investors' recent enthusiasm about the economy has only partly translated into improvements in how investors perceive their personal financial situations. However, if the stock market remains strong in the coming months, that may boost investors' confidence in reaching their own long-term and short-term investment goals, thus boosting the personal dimension of the index.

Enhanced confidence in economic growth may be based partly on some investors' happiness with the outcome of the November election, rather than tangible factors aiding their wallet.

Confidence among investors who identify as or lean Republican rose 55 points this quarter, on top of a massive 154-point gain in the fourth quarter of 2016. Democrats' optimism rose slightly this quarter (up 15 points), but this hardly compensates for a 134-point decline in the fourth quarter. The net result is that Republican investors' confidence is 209 points higher today than in the third quarter of 2016, while Democratic investors' confidence is 119 points lower.

Recent Trend in Investor Optimism Index, by Political Party
Q3 2016 Q4 2016 Q1 2017 Q1 change
Republican/Lean Republican -9 +145 +200 +55
Democrat/Lean Democratic +166 +32 +47 +15
Wells Fargo/Gallup

If Republicans' hopes for the economy are realized in stronger retail sales and employment, that could lead to even higher investor confidence in their personal income, and therefore in the personal dimension of the index. On the other hand, should the economy fail to meet Republicans' expectations, that would likely deflate their confidence in both the economy and their own financial picture.

Survey Methods

Results for the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey are based on questions asked Feb. 10-19, 2017, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, of a random sample of 1,007 U.S. adults having investable assets of $10,000 or more.

For results based on the total sample of investors, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index works.

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