After starting the year off strong, Financial Planning's Retirement Advisor Confidence Index retrenched slightly for March, with advisors reporting drops in client risk tolerance levels and a jump in assets held in cash.

The index - a monthly barometer of business conditions for wealth managers - registered 53.9, according to a Financial Planning survey of planning professionals, after highs of 57.5 for February and a revised 56.1 for January. Nonetheless, the new figure was still ahead of all 2012 readings, which hovered between 48 and 53.

Among the factors affecting the index were a big jump in client assets allocated to cash as well as a slide in client risk tolerance level - both of which moved roughly 10 percentage points. Even so, however, both factors were noticeably more positive than in late 2012, when clients fretted over the presidential election and the fiscal cliff budget impasse.

"Putting the fear of the fiscal cliff behind us was an important thing," one advisor noted.

Equity allocations also gave back five percentage points after early-2013 optimism, but again were higher than at any point in 2012.

Although the stock markets were soaring, advisors said clients voiced concerns about their higher tax rates, Washington gridlock and the possibility that the equities rally could be nearing an end.

"Clients are happy that the market is up, [but] they are still hesitant about a variety of economic conditions," another advisor said.

The index is composed of 12 factors - including asset allocations, investment product recommendations, client recruitment and retention, economic and risk factors, taxes and plan fees - to track trends in wealth management business cycles.

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