Inflation is the number one economic fear among millionaires for the first time in recent history, according to the CNBC Millionaire Survey.
When asked about the biggest risk to the U.S. economy, inflation ranked first, alongside government dysfunction, according to the survey of investors with $1 million or more in investible assets. The results marked the first time that inflation ranked as a top worry among millionaire investors and suggests that even the wealthiest Americans are worried about the upward spiral in prices.
“It’s a big shift,” said George Walper, president of Spectrem Group, which conducts the survey with CNBC. “And their concerns have grown over the the past couple of months.”
The survey shows that inflation fears are rising up the income ladder to those who can most afford higher prices, even if the specific impacts are different. For most Americans, inflation rears its head in the rising costs of food, gas, housing, and other living expenses. For the wealthy and affluent, inflation brings the threat of higher interest rates, which increases the cost of borrowing and can put pressure on asset values.
According to the survey, millionaires ranked inflation as the second biggest threat to their personal wealth, right after government dysfunction.
“For most Americans, the fear with inflation is rising costs,” said Walper. “For the wealthy, it’s also the fear of rising costs of capital.”
Millionaires largely have confidence in the Federal Reserve’s ability to manage inflation without prices or interest rates spiraling out of control. According to the survey, 59% of millionaires were “confident” or “somewhat confident” about the Federal Reserve’s ability to manage rising inflation. And fewer than a third of millionaire investors have made changes to their investment portfolio, or plan to make changes, due to inflation.
Fully three quarters of millionaires say interest rates will be higher next year, but only 7% say they will be “much higher.”
Yet there are vast generational differences between millionaires when it comes to inflation. Baby boomer millionaires, who lived through the hyperinflation of the 1970s, are four times more likely than millennial millionaires to cite inflation as a threat to their wealth. They are also far less likely to view the current bout of inflation as “temporary” — at 27%, compared with 45% of millennial millionaires.
Walper said that wealthy millennials, who earned or inherited their wealth during a prolonged period of low interest rates, aren’t as sensitive to the true costs of higher rates.
“Until they apply for a mortgage at an interest rate of 12%, they’re not going to have the same perspective,” Walper said.