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Where are the yachts? The bling? Wall Street is getting cheap

Superyachts sit moored during the Superyacht Miami boat show at Island Gardens Deep Harbour in Biscayne Bay, Miami, Florida.
Chris Goodney | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Superyachts sit moored during the Superyacht Miami boat show at Island Gardens Deep Harbour in Biscayne Bay, Miami, Florida.

Spending on big-ticket items used to be a badge of honor on Wall Street. A response to the question, "How was your weekend?" would typically be:

"I bought a new car." Or, "Oh I decided to fly down to Miami last minute."

But it appears if those days are over — at least for now. Wall Street's luxury spending really fell off after the financial crisis – and it's still not back. I polled about a hundred bankers, traders, analysts and portfolio managers and the new trend on Wall Street is — are you ready for this? — saving.

"I enjoy saving," said Roger, a sales trader. "I like watching it add up."

A whopping 80 percent of the people I surveyed said they prefer saving over spending.

What's more, they said they've increased their pace of saving, stashing more money away since their last bonus than in previous years.

"I'm going to keep saving," Rachel an analyst said. "Who knows how many rainy days are ahead?"

The No. 1 reason they're ratcheting up their savings is fear.


"I'm going to keep saving ... Who knows how many rainy days are ahead?" -Rachel, an analyst

"I've been spending a lot less these days," Michael a sales trader said. "A lot of it has to do with job security. You never know when the music is going to stop."

Beyond job security, there's the little matter of the presidential election. The majority of people believe there are pros and cons to both candidates. With Clinton, they see a much more stable market, but with increased regulations that could slow growth. And Trump's proposal of lowering taxes is appealing to most, but he also brings a headline risk. There's some worry about currency movements, macroeconomic instability and the uncertainty of new trade agreements.

Even if the next president cuts taxes for the wealthy, hoping for a trickle-down effect where the more money they save, the more they'll pump back into the economy, don't expect Wall Street to play that game.

Hand them more savings, via taxes or whatever, and Wall Street will stash it away. They want to save as much as they can.

The luxury private jet market is expected to drop by 5 percent this year, while the yacht market has a zero-growth outlook for 2016, according to the latest Bain Luxury report.

And, Wall Streeters confirmed that now, more than ever, they're cutting back — or eliminating altogether — a lot of luxury purchases.

Several of the people I spoke to said when it comes to luxury watches, if they already have one, they don't feel the need for a newer, shinier one.

"If anything I'd rather have a smartwatch," said David, a hedge-fund analyst. "But I really don't need another watch."

Most people surveyed said they have no intention of buying new jewelry either — with the exception of Christmas.

Ditto for designer accessories. The closets are already loaded with bags. And these days, you can get the same quality for half the price.

"My wife doesn't need another bag," said Jeff, a commodities broker. "And if she needs one there are bargains to be had out there these days without the labels."

When asked if they planned to buy a new car in 2017, most Wall Streeters said it would be on an as-needed basis only. There's no rush to get a car if you already own two or three.

"My garage is full," said Teddy, an analyst. A new car is just "not needed."

And don't think they're paying off their mortgages with all the money they're saving either.

"My mortgage is so low that it doesn't make sense to pay it off," Stephanie an analyst said. "I'm paying like 4 percent. I'd rather invest my money. I think I can do better than 4 percent."

Of course, this isn't to say that Wall Street has gone full hermit. Wall Streeters are still spending in a few areas: less-expensive toys (than, say, a yacht) and travel.

The three most common toy purchases were virtual reality devices, drones and GoPros.

"I won't even think twice about those purchases," said Sandy, a sales trader. "But I'm not dropping five grand on things left and right anymore."

And, Wall Street refuses to give up its love of travel.

"It's not like I'm going to start flying coach … I'm still hitting the beach this winter and I'll do the summer in the Hamptons," said Robert, a portfolio manager. "I'm just not going to waste money on other frivolous items."


Commentary by Turney Duff, a former trader at the hedge fund Galleon Group. Duff chronicled the spectacular rise and fall of his career on Wall Street in the book, "The Buy Side." He is a commentator on CNBC's "Filthy Rich Guide" and a consultant on the Showtime show, "Billions," starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti. Follow him on Twitter @turneyduff.

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