Wells Fargo/Gallup Survey: Geopolitical Risks Greater Threat to Investments Than the Economy, Investors Say

U.S. investor optimism holds steady near 16-year high

Majority haven’t yet felt impact of rising rates on finances

Investors say they could save extra $300 per month for retirement with effort


Infographics: 2Q17 Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index (Graphic: Business Wire)

NEW YORK--()--While still quite positive relative to the blunted outlook after the recession, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index held steady near its 16-year high recorded last quarter. Investors are more likely to say they worry about current geopolitical matters harming their investments than worry about harm from the economy. The latest index, which gauges investor optimism, now registers at +124, essentially unchanged from +126 in February. This represents a leveling off well below the +178 historical high for investor confidence recorded in January 2000. This marks the first time since the first quarter of 2016 that the index did not improve. The Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index second-quarter survey was conducted by telephone with 1,005 U.S. investors May 4-7.

Investors rank geopolitical risks top threat for investing climate

When asked about possible threats to the U.S. investment climate in the coming year, three-quarters of investors (75%) were very or somewhat worried about the impact of the various military and diplomatic conflicts happening around the world. The domestic political climate ranked a close second at 69%. The overall performance of the economy sparked far less concern, with about half (49%) saying they are very or somewhat worried.

It’s good to see optimism staying near its 16-year high. And given recent headlines, it’s not surprising that investors are more concerned that geopolitical risks pose a greater threat to their investments than the economy. While the news may be concerning to investors, we advise clients not to let those anxieties impact their investment plan because that doesn’t change the underlying positive fundamentals of the economy,” said Brian Rehling, co-head of global fixed income strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

Low interest rates preferred; impact of rising rates unnoticed

Investors favor low interest rates, with two-thirds (66%) saying they are satisfied with current interest rates. Nearly seven in 10 investors (69%) think low interest rates are better for their financial situation than high rates. Notably, there is a difference by retirement status, with three-quarters (76%) of non-retirees vs. 52% of retirees saying they prefer low rates. Conversely, nearly twice as many retirees as non-retirees say they prefer high rates, 39% vs. 21%.

Despite investors’ preference for low rates, two-thirds say they haven’t noticed any impact of higher interest rates on their finances. The rest of investors are split between saying they have noticed a positive (13%) or a negative (14%) impact on their finances.

The pace at which interest rates have been rising has been so slow that investors may not feel the heat until it’s boiling,” said Rehling. “Fed rate hikes, while still slow, are starting to accelerate. In the current low-rate environment, investors may find they have taken on more credit or interest rate risk than is appropriate for their risk tolerance in an attempt to generate yield. It’s important to focus on diversifying income sources, regularly check the temperature on your risk tolerance and monitor your portfolio to make sure your risk tolerance is aligned to your financial goals.”

Non-retiree vs. retiree on impact of rates

While most retirees also report seeing no impact from higher rates, slightly more say they have noticed a positive (16%) versus a negative (9%) impact. By contrast, non-retirees are a bit more likely to say the impact has been negative (17%) than positive (12%).

Two-thirds of investors overall say that additional interest rate hikes this year will not compel them to make any changes to their investments. However, nearly a quarter (23%), say they would transfer some money out of stocks and into interest-bearing accounts or investments such as CDs.

Whatever your age, low rates can hurt savers. With rising rates, the inertia among investors to stick with their investments shows that they may be more comfortable with the risks in the stock market. However, the lack of meaningful rate and/or credit shocks in recent years may have given some investors a false sense of security,” Rehling noted.

Investors better poised to save more for retirement

When non-retired investors carefully thought about all of their spending and expenses, they said they could save an additional $300 a month (median) toward retirement, if they made a serious effort to do so. This is up from a $200 a month (median) when non-retired investors were polled on this in late 2014.

Whether that extra money is to pay down debt or save for retirement, this is a great sign when investors feel they could save more than in years past. Having a financial plan and staying disciplined can help investors meet their financial expectations,” Rehling said.

Investors comfortable with their debt load

Total household debt recently reached a new peak of $12.7 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The majority of investors (77%) feel comfortable with the amount of debt they may have accumulated over the past several years when interest rates have been low. On the flip side, 21% of investors say they are not comfortable with the amount of debt they may have accumulated, given rising interest rates. By asset level, investors concerned about being overextended was twice (32%) as high among those with less than $100,000 in assets as among those with more than $100,000 in assets (15%).

As rates continue to slowly rise, investors should carefully assess how that will impact them as a consumer (borrower) and investor (saver) — and then formulate a plan to navigate through the gradual rate rises. Scaling back spending while prioritizing higher-cost revolving debt can help lessen the impact of higher rates,” Rehling said.

For more information, read WFII’s Ask the Institute: What Risks Can Investors Expect in a Rising-Rate Environment? and WFII’s special report: Five Ways Rising Rates Could Affect Investors.

About the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index

These findings are part of the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index, which was conducted May 4-7, 2017, by telephone. The index includes 1,005 investors, aged 18 and older, randomly selected from across the U.S. with a margin of sampling error of +/- four percentage points. For this study, the American investor is defined as an adult in a household with total savings and investments of $10,000 or more. About two in five U.S. households have at least $10,000 in savings and investments. The sample size consists of 72% non-retirees and 28% retirees. Of total respondents, 41% reported annual incomes of less than $90,000; 59% reported $90,000 or more. The Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Index is an enhanced version of Gallup’s Index of Investor Optimism, which provides the historical trend data. The median age of the non-retired investor is 46 and the retiree is 69.

The Index of Investor Optimism had a baseline score of 124 when it was established in October 1996. It peaked at +178 in January 2000, at the height of the dot-com boom, and hit a low of -64 in February 2009.

About Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE:WFC) is a diversified, community-based financial services company with $2.0 trillion in assets. Founded in 1852 and headquartered in San Francisco, Wells Fargo provides banking, insurance, investments, mortgage, and consumer and commercial finance through more than 8,500 locations, 13,000 ATMs, the internet (wellsfargo.com) and mobile banking, and has offices in 42 countries and territories to support customers who conduct business in the global economy. With approximately 273,000 team members, Wells Fargo serves one in three households in the United States. Wells Fargo & Company was ranked No. 27 on Fortune’s 2016 rankings of America’s largest corporations. Wells Fargo’s vision is to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially. News, insights and perspectives from Wells Fargo are also available at Wells Fargo Stories.

About Gallup

Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students and citizens than any other organization in the world.


Wells Fargo & Company
Allison Chin-Leong, 212-214-6674


Wells Fargo & Company
Allison Chin-Leong, 212-214-6674