The survey, which polled more than 3,600 wealthy investors and entrepreneurs in 17 countries, points to a rebound in bullish sentiment in the first three months of 2019 as markets recovered from the late-2018 slump. While respondents held a large proportion of their assets in cash, many expressed willingness to invest it, results show.
Fifty-one percent of investor respondents were optimistic on the global economy versus 21% who were pessimistic. Business owners were especially positive, with 62% optimistic and 15% pessimistic. Even more – 60% of investors and 68% of business owners – expressed optimism on their own region's economy.
Investors were also bullish on stocks. Fifty-six percent expressed optimism on stocks in their own regions versus 49% on stocks globally. In addition, 74% saw recent market volatility as an investment opportunity, compared with 67% who were still concerned about volatility witnessed in the fourth quarter of last year. Forty-two percent of investors planned to invest more in the next six months versus 17% who planned to invest less. Sustainable investing was also cited as a growing interest, making up 27% of portfolios versus 22% five years ago.
Business owners were equally bullish. Globally, 74% were optimistic on their business; 37% planned to invest more versus 10% who planned to invest less; and 31% intended to hire more over the next 12 months versus 12% who intended to downsize.
Domestic concerns and cash holdings remain elevated
On the negative side, investors expressed worries about domestic issues. Some 44% cited their country's politics as a top concern and 40% cited their national debt.
Investors' cash holdings also remained high. On average, 32% of portfolios globally were allocated to cash. US and Swiss investors' cash holdings were lower (23% and 31%, respectively). Holdings in both Asia and Latin America were 36%. In Europe, they were 35%. However, US investors were also least likely to invest more, at 26% of respondents, while Latin American and Asian investors were the most likely, at 66% and 54%, respectively.
Paula Polito, Client Strategy Officer at UBS Global Wealth Management, says: "Cash is a safe asset for a liquidity strategy but a risky one for longevity. Right now, we see high levels of cash globally. This is a good time for investors to consider a more diversified portfolio."
Regional findings and recommendations
US investors exhibited the biggest risk of home bias, with 56% optimistic on their own region's economy versus 37% on the global economy – although 56% were also concerned about their country's politics and 49% about the national debt. Conversely, Latin American investors appeared less likely to exhibit home bias, with 78% optimistic on the economy both globally and in their home region – although concern about national politics was also high at 63%, behind inflation at 67%. According to UBS Global Wealth Management's Chief Investment Office (CIO), while US investors have benefited especially from over-allocating to domestic stocks in recent years, this home bias could hurt returns going forward. US stocks are priced in line with long-term averages, but international equity markets are more cheaply valued.
Asian investors cited fears about trade wars and a regional slowdown in China as their prominent concerns, at 46% and 43% of respondents, respectively. However, Asian investors still showed a risk of home bias, with 59% optimistic on the global economy versus 66% on their region amid strong performance in China in particular. When deploying cash into equities, CIO recommends investors diversify beyond China into other regional markets with catch-up potential.
European investors have been beset by disappointing growth, political uncertainty, and weak financial market returns. They also have some of the highest holdings in cash. But once they have sufficient cash to meet their short-term liquidity needs, we believe there are better ways for them to protect and grow their wealth. To access compelling potential long-term returns, investors in Europe and elsewhere can look to a fully sustainable portfolio as a core solution, diversified globally and by asset class.
Investors in UBS's home market have one of the lowest levels of optimism but also one of the lowest risks of home bias, with 40% optimistic on the global economy versus 41% on Switzerland. Although this dynamic is understandable given the muted potential returns on offer in Swiss assets, Swiss investors can help guard against downside by focusing on high quality dividends within Swiss equities as well as diversifying beyond domestic assets.
Mark Haefele, Chief Investment Officer at UBS Global Wealth Management, says: "'Buy local' works well for vegetables, but we are more optimistic on the global economy and this survey confirms investors sometimes focus too much on their home region. Diversification is still the best way to access opportunities and side-step domestic risks."
Christian Wiesendanger, Head of Investment Platforms and Solutions at UBS Global Wealth Management, says: "We have seen significant investor interest in multi-asset mandates and other diversified solutions as markets recover. Most recently, our 100% sustainable cross-asset portfolio surpassed USD 5 billion in assets globally. Investors should continue to look past their favored asset classes and countries for opportunities as the global business cycle advances."
About the survey
UBS surveyed 3,653 investors and business owners with at least USD 1 million in investable assets (for investors) or at least USD 250,000 in annual revenue and at least one employee other than themselves (for business owners), from March 10-28 2019. The global sample was split across Brazil, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, the UAE, the UK, and the US.
UBS provides financial advice and solutions to wealthy, institutional and corporate clients worldwide, as well as private clients in Switzerland. UBS' strategy is centered on our leading global wealth management business and our premier universal bank in Switzerland, enhanced by Asset Management and the Investment Bank. The bank focuses on businesses that have a strong competitive position in their targeted markets, are capital efficient, and have an attractive long-term structural growth or profitability outlook.
UBS is present in all major financial centers worldwide. It has offices in 52 countries, with about 34% of its employees working in the Americas, 34% in Switzerland, 18% in the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Africa and 14% in Asia Pacific. UBS Group AG employs approximately 61,000 people around the world. Its shares are listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).