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Millionaire Survey: Wealthy Eyeing Stocks

Millionaires view the U.S. economy as "very weak," but sense a resumption of growth in early 2009 and expect to buy stocks and real-estate in the latest indication that a recovery may be imminent, according to a study released Tuesday.

The Fidelity Investments Millionaire Outlook survey, involving more than 1,000 respondents, found that 27 percent of millionaires plan to raise their exposure to individual stocks, while 14 percent plan to increase their real-estate investments within 12 months. Only 7 percent had plans to decrease their stock holdings during the same period.

"Millionaires' attitudes and behaviors could be seen as a harbinger for economic stabilization or turnaround beginning in early 2009," John Callahan, president of the Boston-based Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, said in an interview.

Millionaires in the study had average annual household income before taxes of $380,000 and average investable assets of $4.3 million, not including workplace retirement assets and any real estate. The average age among the respondents was 59.

The study, in its second year, helps reinforce the notion financial markets are in the process of bottoming.

Since mid-March, the Dow Jones industrial average is up nearly 8.00 percent and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index up over 9.50 percent. The period is when the Federal Reserve injected cash into jittery credit markets in response to the stunning collapse of Bear Stearns.

"You can learn from millionaires -- always -- because this group typically thinks about diversification and the preservation of capital," Callahan said.

Just a little over a year ago millionaires were cautious when predicting the economy for 2007, which proved fairly accurate with the credit turmoil rocking world financial markets during the second half of the year.

"Now they feel more optimistic," Callahan said. "Not surprisingly, these millionaires were concerned about the presidential election and the array of tax packages.

Millionaires are divided on their expectation of whether higher taxes are likely in the next five years. But slightly more than half think there is either a "likely" or "very likely" chance of significant increases in three of the main federal tax rates: income, capital gains and dividend, the study said.

Among the millionaires who expect an increase in the income tax rate, 69 percent believe it will have a "moderate" to "large" impact on their investment strategy, compared with 77 percent for capital gains and 70 percent for dividends.

Dividend-paying stocks have become one of the more popular stock-market investments since the Bush administration earlier this decade slashed the tax rate on dividends to 15 percent, compared with the current top federal income tax rate of 35 percent.

"You can bet that this group will be looking out for tax-efficient securities and products if that tax rate moves higher," Callahan said, adding that tax-exempt municipal bonds will be in bigger demand.

All told, Callahan said the study showed that even millionaires, while resilient to volatile economic and financial environments, have not been insulated by the housing and credit crisis.

Three-quarters of the millionaires concurred that the subprime U.S. mortgage situation has had at least a "slight negative impact" on the performance of their investments in the past year, with 42 percent saying it's had a moderate to large negative impact.