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Bracing for the election: Retirement planning takes conservative stance

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With less than three months until the presidential election, there is considerable angst among advisers working on their clients' retirement plans.

“There are too many scenarios to plan for with this year’s election,” one planner wrote in response to Financial Planning’s latest survey, which asked 330 advisers, “How will the outcome of the US election impact retirement planning, and what actions are you taking now?”

While some are choosing to sit tight and wait for the outcome before making any decisions, many advisers said they are taking a more conservative approach to protect their clients' assets.

“Clients are nervous about the aftermath and looking for more principal protection,” said one wealth manager. Another said he has “taken money off the table” and postponed injecting new cash flow to make sure clients are positioned defensively in case of a negative market reaction.

Several planners said the impact will vary greatly depending on which candidate wins. Some advisers worry a Trump victory would cause high volatility and possibly a market downturn.

“I think Wall Street is already assuming a Hillary victory. So, if she wins, the impact will be minimal. If Trump wins, I think there could be a much higher risk of volatility,” one adviser said.

Another adviser predicts that Trump could cause “devastating effects across equity and bond markets due to his bellicose rhetoric.”

Conversely, planners are forecasting heavier capital gains and estate taxes if Clinton takes office, affecting those serving the ultrahigh and high-net-worth segments. One adviser reported her clients are considering moving to states with lower tax rates. Another discussed trust structures and alternative estate planning options. One wealth manager is choosing to stay optimistic, saying that these tax hikes would “make [advisers] much more needed.”

To hedge against anticipated volatility, one planner said they were diverting funds away from growth stocks and into dividend-paying stocks, as well as investing more in U.S. and international REITs. Another is advising against foreign investments unless clients have the appropriate risk profile.

Indeed, many advisers said clients are hesitant to invest abroad because of political events and global upheaval, according to the latest edition of the Global Asset Allocation Tracker, which recorded a negative reading for the second month in a row.

Read more: Index Advisers slow to raise allocations, citing high valuations and global jitters

Other advisers worry clients will suffer regardless of the election's outcome.

In the words of one planner, “they are both nuts.”

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