Affluent Possess Hopeful Outlook, New Survey Reveals

ALPHARETTA, GA — America’s most affluent consumers have a negative opinion of current business conditions but possess a positive 12-month outlook for improvements in business conditions and the stock market, according to the latest in a series of twice-yearly surveys.

The survey was conducted in September among 684 respondents representative of the wealthiest 10% of Americans – some 11.2 million households, accounting for about half of total consumer spending. It also reveals that spending plans over the next 12 months have improved since the previous study, in the spring, but continue to be soft in comparison to prior-year reports in the eight-year series of surveys (see graphics below).

The survey was conducted by the American Affluence Research Center, a private research organization that probes the values, lifestyles, attitudes, investments and purchasing behavior of the most affluent segments of the U.S. population. The surveys measure and track how the affluent assess current business conditions, as well as their 12-month outlook for the economy and their personal household earnings. Also monitored are anticipated changes in spending for a variety of different products and services – including major home remodeling projects and home purchases.

The consumers surveyed have an average household income of $300,000, an average primary residence value of $1.2 million, and an average net worth of $3.1 million, according to the Alpharetta, GA-based firm.

According to the survey’s findings, most of the affluent expect to return to pre-recession levels of spending once they are convinced the recession is over and they see a recovery in their net worth, which has been hit by declines in the value of their savings and homes. However, they do not expect to see the end of the recession for about 18 to 24 months – and possibly not until early 2012, researchers say.

Among the key findings of the latest survey are the following:

Respondents are more positive than they were in the Spring 2009 survey. Respondents believe that current business conditions are a bit better than in the spring, and they expect business conditions, the stock market and personal income to be even better 12 months from now.

Spending plans are generally higher than they were six months ago, but are still showing no real increases in comparison to the prior year. The majority of survey respondents still say they are reducing or deferring expenditures due to current economic conditions.

Spending plans for all of the major purchase items studied, with the exception of building primary and vacation homes, rose slightly from the Spring 2009 survey. Plans for major home remodeling showed the most substantial increase.

Nearly half (48%) say the reason for reducing or deferring expenditures is because “they want to spend less and save more.” Uncertainty about the economic recovery and job security and/or compensation, and concern about the decline in net worth, are other reasons for reducing/deferring expenditures.

41% of respondents report they have felt self-conscious about having a better or stronger financial situation than that of friends and family.

34% say they have been self-conscious about having a worse or weaker financial situation than that of friends and family.

Of those feeling self-conscious about having a better financial situation, only 18% (about 7% of the total sample) have reduced/deferred expenditures because of concern about appearances.

20% say they have not reduced their spending. Of the 80% who have cut back, about a quarter say they will not return to pre-recession levels of spending.

The recovery of net worth is the key to a return to pre-recession levels of spending. In contrast, only 5% say easier credit will be important to increased spending.