Millionaire investors are lukewarm on a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency, but many say the stock market is still the best bet for their money.
That may come as a surprise. The typical preelection market narrative posits that affluent investors move to the sidelines amid political uncertainty. And for at least some millionaires, that is true, as an increasing number of wealthy investors move to the sidelines as Election Day nears — but it's not representative of a majority of millionaires, especially those who are active market participants.
Investors with accounts above $1 million are more bullish on the stock market and the U.S. economy than investors as a whole, according to an E-Trade Financial survey of U.S. investors who self-direct at least $10,000 in a brokerage account, provided exclusively to CNBC.
These $1 million-plus brokerage-account holders said the one piece of investing advice they would give to a family member or friend thinking of investing right now is to invest in equity funds — 68 percent of millionaires surveyed by E-Trade cited this, followed by individual stocks (59 percent), ETFs (55 percent) and money market or other cashlike instruments (48 percent). When asked which type of ETF they are most interested in, 58 percent said U.S. market index ETFs, followed by dividend ETFs (50 percent) and sector ETFs (41 percent).
Seventy-eight percent of millionaires said the "U.S. market and Canada" offered the best investment potential this quarter.
"These investors understand the market will be more regularly impacted by market-specific events than who is in the White House. We're not seeing people overly concerned," said Mike Loewengart, vice president of investment strategy at E-Trade. "Wealthy individuals are confident the U.S. can weather the outcome of the election," he said.
Millionaires surveyed give Clinton and Trump equal marks on the economy, but a clear majority think Clinton will be significantly better for stocks than Trump (55 percent to 45 percent), according to the E-Trade survey. This view is even more pronounced among all investors (including those with less than $1 million in their accounts) surveyed by E-Trade, 60 percent of whom think Clinton is better for the market. The broader investor group surveyed also gave Clinton much higher marks on the economy — 59 percent saying she would be better for the economy versus 50 percent of millionaires.
"Investors have a much better picture of what to expect from a Clinton presidency. The markets like certainty," Loewengart said. "They don't know what Trump will do if elected. No one has a clear idea of what to expect, if only because Trump is not a career politician and has no career record," he said.
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In either presidential scenario, the percentage of millionaire investors who said they will move their money to cash remains in the minority. Twenty percent of millionaires said they would move to cash if Trump becomes president, while 45 percent said they would make no changes to their portfolio. Fifteen percent of millionaires said they would move to cash if Clinton becomes president, while 55 percent told E-Trade they would make no changes to their portfolio.
There are reasons for short-term concern. The S&P 500 hit a four-month low on Tuesday, while the VIX volatility index spiked. And there's historical precedent for election year November monthly returns not being as good for stocks as November typically has been compared to other months.
But Loewengart interpreted the survey data from the first half of October as a sign that many millionaires see risk in sitting out the market for an extended period of time. "No one wants to put plans on hold for the election or any other reason. They want to execute on goals. They want to stay involved," Loewengart said.
The top two sectors for millionaires this quarter are technology (57 percent) and health care, the only two sectors receiving a response of more than 50 percent from millionaire investors surveyed by E-Trade. (No investors with accounts below $1 million cited any sector at a response of 50 percent or more.)
Loewengart said recent strong performance in tech continues to drive interest, while health care could be a value investing play. "It's been really beaten up, whether it's scrutiny from the press or the prospect of greater regulation. ... Investors see opportunity because they see babies being thrown out with the bathwater," Loewengart said. "They see an opportunity once the election season is behind us and they believe there will be greater clarity around the sector."
The percentage of millionaires who said money market or other cashlike instruments are their best piece of advice right now for those looking to invest (48 percent) is notable, but Loewengart said there is more at play in that finding than election jitters.
"Investors are starting to pay attention to the higher yields available in these vehicles that haven't pulled through to bank accounts yet," he said. "Online banks do offer higher yields, but I believe investors are now starting to pay attention to higher yields you can find in money markets or ultra short-term mutual funds. They are starting to pay attention to the fact that the 1 basis point offered by the bank can be 30 basis points in a fund."
Survey methodology: The E-Trade survey was conducted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 10 among an online U.S. sample of 954 self-directed active investors (including 213 investors with $1 million-plus in investable assets) who manage at least $10,000 in an online brokerage account. The panel is broken into thirds of active (trade more than once a week), swing (trade less than once a week but more than once a month) and passive (trade less than once a month).