"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," ("Gone with the Wind," 1939)
This famous line is No. 1 among American Film Institutes' recently published list of the top 100 movie quotes of all time. But some things are worth giving a damn about — or at least paying attention to — in a time when the ups and downs of the financial markets make it difficult for most people to get ahead. One of them is this: What are the wealthy doing with their money? Does their behavior offer clues for the vast majority of us who are just getting along?
"Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!" (No. 93, from "Auntie Mame," 1958)
This question of how the wealthy are spending and investing came to mind as I read a recent Forbes article titled, "What it costs to live well in the Northeast." It catalogues the income a family of four has to earn annually (net income after taxes) to do the following:
— Own a home in an upscale neighborhood and a vacation home at the beach or in the country
— Support one child at a private university and another in a private school
— Have a couple of luxury cars in the garage
— Dine out once a week
— Take vacation trips once or twice a year
— Salt away some savings in the bank
"… the stuff that dreams are made of" (No. 14, from "The Maltese Falcon," 1941)
It's no surprise that those kinds of dreams cost plenty in the Northeast. The city of Portland, Maine, came in at the low end at $215,000 annually.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain't heard nothin' yet!" (No. 71, from "The Jazz Singer," 1927)
At the high end, to live well in New York City demands $483,800 annually.
"You're gonna need a bigger boat," (No. 35, from "Jaws," 1975)
"I feel the need — the need for speed!" (No. 94, from "Top Gun," 1986)
These numbers don't even come close to equaling the truly wealthy who own yachts, lavish estates, and ranches in the West with private jets.
"Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore," (No. 4, from "The Wizard of Oz," 1939)
What are wealthy folks doing with their money nowadays? They are: a) losing it in hedge funds, b) cutting back on real estate investments, c) eating it.
Specifically, in fits of extravagantly literal consumption, people eat gold dust and flakes. An Atlantic City casino offers a hazelnut brownie dusted with edible gold — for a mere $1,000.
"... a martini —shaken, not stirred," (No. 90, from "Goldfinger," 1964)
The specialty drink at La Bete, the new nightclub in the ultra-swank Wynn Las Vegas, is a champagne cocktail sprinkled with gold flakes.
"Show me the money!" (No. 25, from "Jerry Maguire," 1996)
When not spending their money, wealthy people look for ways to invest. Hedge funds have been a favorite investment for the well-off, mainly because these funds can trade more aggressively than mutual funds, using leverage, swaps, and short-selling. Since, by law, hedge funds can have no more than 100 investors per fund, they require high minimum investment amounts from their clients, ranging from $250,000 to $1 million.
"Well, nobody's perfect." (No. 48, from "Some Like It Hot," 1959)
They also usually collect 20 percent of the profits they make along with their management fees.
"Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!" (No. 60, Oliver Hardy to Stan Laurel in "Sons of the Desert," 1933)
When they're hot, they're worth it. But the heat this summer is not coming from hedge fund returns. Instead, it's coming from some hedge fund bombs exploding. Recently, two hedge funds, Marin Capital Partners and Bailey Coates Asset Management, called it quits and sent the remaining funds under management back to investors. Big losses all around.
"Houston, we have a problem." (No. 50, from "Apollo 13," 1995)
Analysts at Elliott Wave International see the hedge-fund situation this way:
"As clients demand their money back, managers must sell even more than the returned amount, because most hedge fund assets are leveraged investments. When they can't sell collateralized debt obligations, they have to sell something else, thus the domino effect. As illiquidity spreads, the margin calls rise and selling begets more selling. Thus the stage is set for [more trouble ahead.]" (The Elliott Wave Financial Forecast, June 2005)
Finally, while many less well-to-do folks are deciding that their best investment is an expensive new home with a super-sized, interest-only mortgage, the wealthiest U.S. folks are retreating from the real estate market. The most recent World Wealth Report from Capgemini and Merrill Lynch came out in mid-June with a breakdown of where their portfolios are invested.
"Bond. James Bond." (No. 22, from "Dr. No," 1962)
For high-net-worth investors (those with assets of at least $1 million), equities were still the No. 1 preference for their portfolios. They put 34 percent in equities, 27 percent in fixed income investments (bonds), 12 percent in cash, and 14 percent in private equity. None of these numbers changed much from the year before.
But there was one significant change: investments in real estate shifted down, from 17 percent of portfolios to 13 percent. As one of Merrill Lynch's executives put it: "High-net-worth investors and their advisors try to anticipate rather than follow market trends and get ahead of the curve in their investing strategies."
In other words: "May the Force be with you" (No. 8, from Star Wars, 1977) before the real estate bubble catches up with you. And if all else fails, there's one last way to get rich:
"We rob banks." (No. 41, from "Bonnie and Clyde," 1967)
Susan C. Walker writes for Elliott Wave International, a market forecasting and technical analysis company. She has been an associate editor with Inc. magazine, a newspaper writer and editor, an investor relations executive and a speechwriter for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. She received her B.A. in Classics from Stanford University.