Bush and Cheney: Cautious to a Fault as Investors?
President Bush and Vice-President Cheney have been bold -- some critics would say reckless -- on the world stage, but as investors they are a couple of shrinking violets.
Bush has just 2% to 4% of his money in stock and balanced funds, according to his recently released 2006 financial disclosure report. The remainder is in money-under-the-mattress investments: bank checking accounts, certificates of deposit, money-market mutual funds and Treasury bills and notes. Bush lists between $4.6 million and $9.7 million in these ultra-low-risk investments. By contrast, he has a meager $205,000 in stock and balanced funds.
By comparison, Cheney looks almost aggressive, with 28% in stocks, stock options and stock funds. The rest is spread among bond funds -- and also includes at least $1.6 million and as much as $6.3 million in the same type of super-safe investments that Bush favors.
These computations count only the President's and Vice-President's liquid assets that are available for investing. They don't include, for instance, Bush's Texas ranch, worth $1 million to $5 million, or land in McLean, Va., that Cheney owns that is likewise worth between $1 million and $5 million. (Financial disclosure reports require officials to list their assets only within wide ranges.) If those were counted, the pair's allocation to stocks and stock funds would be even smaller. Bush's allocation also doesn't account for between $1 million and $5 million that the President has in a blind trust. There is, of course, no way to know how that money is invested.
The Vice-President, meanwhile, is making a big bet on a decline in the dollar and a pickup in inflation -- just as he was in 2005 (See Are Dick Cheney's Money Managers Betting on Bad News?). He owns between $5 million and $25 million in American Century International Bond fund, which will benefit handsomely from a continued fall in the value of the greenback. What's more, 65% to 71% of the Vice-President's investments in stock funds are in foreign stock funds, which would also be helped by a further drop in the dollar. Another $2.5 million to $11 million is in Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities fund, which invests in bonds whose returns are tied to the gains in consumer prices.
To be sure, Bush and Cheney are hardly in danger of becoming impoverished when they leave office. Bush lists assets of between $7.6 million and $20.1 million, while Cheney reports assets of between $21.4 million and $100 million. And once you reach a certain level of wealth, it can be more important to protect what you have than to try to aggressively expand your portfolio. Moreover, if they chose to, Bush and Cheney could earn vast sums after they leave office by writing and giving speeches.
Why the aversion to risk?
Still, it's puzzling why they aren't more interested in making their money grow. Since 1926, stocks have returned twice as much as bonds -- an annualized 11.5% for stocks to 5.5% for bonds. Meanwhile, inflation has averaged about 3% a year. By investing more in stocks or stock funds, Bush and Cheney could amass larger fortunes to contribute to political causes or charity. Indeed, Cheney has between $1 million and $5 million in unexercised stock options in Halliburton, of which he once served as chief executive officer, and he has irrevocably assigned the after-tax proceeds of those options to charity.
What's more, both men set examples for the rest of us. Increasingly, Americans determine their own destiny by picking their own investments in 401(k) plans and other similar workplace retirement programs. In pushing his now-defunct plan to allow Social Security participants to invest through private accounts, Bush repeatedly extolled the benefits of the stock market. "A Social Security system that includes personal accounts will give all Americans.... a stake in the greatest creator of wealth the world has ever known," he said in a speech two years ago.
Bush's successful push to lower the capital gains tax rate to 15% was justified largely on the basis that it would encourage more people to invest in the stock market, thus giving companies more capital with which to grow. So what's wrong with these two capitalists?
Both men are certainly cognizant of the public scrutiny that attends their investments. For that reason, they must place a huge value on avoiding controversy. However, diversified mutual funds pose no conflict-of-interest problems, and, indeed, both men own them. And Cheney has been willing to court criticism by investing so heavily in an international bond fund.
Neither the President's nor the Vice-President's office was available to comment on why the two men invest so conservatively. However, their investments have barely changed since last year, and spokesmen for both said then that outside money managers control the money -- and that neither Bush nor Cheney pay any attention to their investments. Of course, they have far more important things to worry about. But perhaps they should devote just a few minutes to making their money work harder for them.
--Reporting by Lisa Dixon
Steven T. Goldberg (bio) is an investment adviser and freelance writer.