'Dysfunctional' Washington is top concern for high-net-worth investors: UBS

High-net-worth investors say the political environment will have the most significant impact on their financial future, according to a new UBS survey.

UBS surveyed 400 high-net-worth investors in the U.S. – those with at least $1 million in investable assets and 100 business owners with at least $250,000 in annual revenue – on what issues in the upcoming 2020 presidential election concern them most. Other issues included the national debt (49%), and health care costs (39%).

Political environment

President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The political environment is the top concern for investors because of a combination of events that weighed on markets during Q4 2018: the impact of the 2017 Trump tax cuts, the government shutdown and the escalation of trade tensions with China, Mexico, Canada, and Japan.

“It’s about the increasingly polarized and dysfunctional nature of the way Washington…doesn’t work,” says Mike Ryan, chief investment officer Americas for UBS Global Wealth Management. “We can’t be dismissive of the fact that we also had the longest government shutdown we’ve seen. So that began to have implications for growth. It [makes investors question] what [will] happen when there’s more serious issues for the government to deal with. Will it be able to deal with it?”

National debt

During President Trump’s administration, the U.S. national debt has reached a record high of $22 trillion. Investors pay close attention to hard-to-miss headlines about trade tensions, Federal Reserve policy, and ongoing congressional investigations and their immediate impacts on the market. But the fact that national debt – which doesn’t get as much attention – is the second-highest concern speaks to high-net-worth investors’ focus on the long term.

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“We have to remember that investors are not just investing through the political cycle or through the current business cycle. They’re often investing and putting their capital risk for longer-term periods,” says Ryan.

Health-care costs

Health-care costs are the third-biggest concern for investors, according to UBS. They’re aware of the personal costs of health care, but they are concerned about costs from a corporate standpoint.

“They’re looking at how it affects their portfolios,” Ryan says. “So for example, if we were to go to single-payer, how would that affect managed care companies? If we were to move towards capping or restricting of prescription drug prices, what would that mean for large pharmaceutical firms? If we were seeing increased regulation on biomedical engineering, how is that going to affect the biotech companies?”

Ryan says that investors are paying attention to “Medicare for all” proposals by Democratic candidates. Sen. Bernie Sanders has been its chief advocate and other Democratic candidates have voiced support for it.

“[Investors will] look at that…to the extent that the government plays a larger and larger role. How [will] it affect health care companies’ stocks if we were to see a single pay provider,” says Ryan.

The first major event in the 2020 race are the debates in June, and UBS outlined key issues that might impact markets and investors’ financial plans: health care (the Affordable Care Act, Medicare for All, uninsured Americans, and rising insurance premiums), public policy (budget deficits, national debt), and commerce (minimum wage, trade policy, regulation, and taxes).

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