Karen Altfest's wealth management business is based in New York City, and as a result, it has more Democratic than Republican clients. Some are still surprised by the election results; some are pessimistic. Many are planning on what they consider positive action — but experts like Altfest worry that the concept of productive action isn't translating to their investments.
"They are saying they will be activists and want to make a difference. Going to march on D.C.," said Altfest, principal advisor and executive vice president of client relations at Altfest Personal Wealth Management.
But they are also taking an "all-or-nothing mind-set" with their portfolio decisions. "I would like people to take a step back from the binary 'invest or cash out' decision," Altfest said.
The results from the recent CNBC Millionaire Survey reflect this concern: Politics is playing a huge — and potentially harmful role — in the investment outlook of wealthy Americans right now. There's a lesson in the millionaire data for all investors about the dangers of personal convictions, and emotions, spilling over into financial decisions.
"The results certainly show the divide now between parties, and that is a little troubling," said Tom Wynn, director of research at Spectrem Group, which conducted the CNBC Millionaire Survey.
Hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio recently told CNBC that the Trump win may reignite "animal spirits" and "gut instinct" decision-making that will be a good thing for the economy, but behavioral finance experts worry that other primal instincts can be destructive when people play politics with their investments.
"Our overall mood influences our willingness to take risks," said Victor Ricciardi, finance professor at Goucher College and co-editor of the book "Investor Behavior: The Psychology of Financial Planning and Investing."
Republican investors that are in a positive or happy mood are more likely to have an appetite for riskier assets.
Democratic investors that are in a negative mood or pessimistic state of mind might experience a lower level of risk tolerance and are more likely to favor safer investments, such as cash or bonds.
For investors who are loading up on U.S. stocks and plan to continue to do so, Altfest cautioned that U.S. stocks seem fully priced and there is not a lot of room, or reason, to invest in them. "They may become overpriced. People are more aggressive than they need to be, and we always see that in up markets," she said.
Altfest said that in her professional opinion, it is time to look away from the U.S. market and to overlooked areas around the globe. "It is too late to jump on this bandwagon," she said.
Even as investors shift to formerly out-of-favor sectors like financials and industrials, Altfest worries that they are still too concentrated in domestic large-cap stocks. "They think they are diversified in individual names, but I don't think that will last long. It's very unlikely to happen that way — have everything in one sector and have that deliver."
But Altfest also thinks investors holding a large part of assets in cash — or planning to go to cash — because they think there will be a catastrophe are making a mistake.
"That is scary, too," Altfest said. "I've heard everything except 'I buried the money in the backyard. ... You should want to participate in the market. Your wealth won't grow in a bureau drawer."
John Payne, a professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, said the financial decisions being revealed in the CNBC Millionaire Survey reflect a basic behavioral finance lesson he has been drumming into the heads of business students for years.
"I think confirmatory thinking (confirmatory bias) is the most common, and impactful, bias that we have uncovered," said Payne. "It leads to other biases, such as overconfidence, as well as influencing group behavior."
People who see the election of Trump as a good thing will, because of confirmatory thinking, be more and more likely to see things as getting better. The opposite will be likely for Democratic voters.
"We are prone to seek new information and interpret old information in ways that confirm what we already believe," Payne said.
The best investing outcomes may result if both Republicans and Democrats move away from their respective euphoria or fear.
"People are venting in this survey, whether it is exuberance or great disappointment," Wynn said.
The CNBC Millionaire Survey was conducted right after the election, between Nov. 11 and Nov. 17.
"When you consider this survey went out a few days after the election and an election that to all pundits was a surprise and provided results people didn't expect, I wonder over time whether the exuberance may dissipate," Wynn said. He added, "People may say it won't be as bad as we thought or on the other side, not as great as we thought it would be."
Payne said he predicts this gap of beliefs and intentions will narrow over time but not completely disappear.
A good place to look for moderation within the extremes? Survey responses from millionaires who identify as political independents.
For the most part, their survey answers fall in the middle of Democrats and Republicans. Independents voted a split ticket much more than major party millionaires, and when it comes to investing and the economy, independents also split their allegiances.
Overall, independents were the least likely to say that the election results would influence their future investing decision (42 percent) compared to Democrats (49 percent) and Republicans (47 percent).
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