Americans Sour on Stocks, Housing and the Economy

Americans have turned dramatically negative on the economy, the stock market and housing over the past three months, a new CNBC Wealth in America Survey finds.

Homeowners on average now expect a slight decline in their home values for the first time since the survey began a year ago.

The survey, conducted for CNBC by Hart-McInturff, also shows that 83 percent of Americans rate the economy as only fair or poor, up 11 points since the December poll, and almost two-thirds are pessimistic now and about the future.

Meanwhile, just 20 percent of Americans expect their home price to increase in the next year, down from 40 percent a year ago. The expectation is that home prices will decline a slight 0.3 percent, the first decline since the quarterly survey began. In the last survey, Americans said they believed home values would rise by 2.2 ercent.

Pollster Bill McInturff said the survey results are unique because they show broad-based negative views across incomes, regions and ages, noting that most polls show wide disparities in economic views across such groups.

"This is a quick turn, it's deep, dimensional and meaningful,'' said McInturff.

There were some modest bright spots: Despite the gloomy outlook, half of all Americans expect to keep their spending the same on discretionary items like movies, restaurants and vacations. A third say they’ll spend less and 13% expect to splurge.

The credit crunch doesn’t appear to have hurt Americans’ ability to get loans. About three-quarters of Americans say they haven’t had any trouble obtaining credit, virtually unchanged from the October survey.

If there’s going to be an economic downturn, American’s don’t believe their finances are in bad shape. Only 16 percent say they have “a lot of debt” and 70 percent say their debt has stayed the same or gone down in the past year.

The bad news overshadowed the good, however. Just 39 percent of Americans expect the value of their stock portfolios to rise in the next 12 months, down from 60 percent a year ago. That’s caused 24 percent of stockholders to say they will invest more conservatively in the next several months, up from 14 percent in December.

The survey also suggested respondents are concerned about stagflation, when prices rise and growth stagnates. Americans expect their wages to rise 5.4 percent in the coming year, unchanged from December. Yet they expect prices for everyday goods they buy to rise 8.2 percent on average, up from 6.4 percent last quarter.

On the political front, the survey found Democrats with a considerable lead over Republicans on handling the economy and healthcare. Democrats had slimmer margins when Americans were asked which party would be best for “their personal financial situation” and real estate. Republicans beat out Democrats 26 percent to 22 percent on the issue of which will do a better job for the stock market.

The survey showed, however, that when it comes to specific economic problems, a large percentage have little faith in either political party. For example, 53 percent of Americans have no preference on which party would be better for the real estate market. That compares with just 37 percent of American who have no party preference on health care.

Hart-McInturff is a joint effort between Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies.