Manulife Investor Sentiment Index finds Canadians keep investing amid economic, market turmoil



    WATERLOO, ON, April 8 /CNW/ - Canadians are seeing an upside to
investments generally, and for investment real estate in particular, according
to a national poll for Manulife Financial, Canada's leading insurance and
wealth management company.
    Eight of 10 investment categories and vehicles gained ground or held
steady in a national poll for Manulife conducted in late March, reversing a
sharp decline late last year.
    "Canadians generally suggested they favoured safer havens over the past
six months, but a number of indicators seem to show they're becoming more
optimistic about investing," said Paul Rooney, President and CEO, Manulife
Canada. "Given short-term changes in the economy and markets, we always
encourage investors to work closely with their own advisors."
    In its latest national survey of Canadians, the 41st quarterly Manulife
Investor Sentiment Index gained six points to reach +11, up from December and
from its lowest point in a decade.
    The national telephone poll of 1,005 Canadians by Research House, an
Environics Company found only two among 10 investment categories and vehicles
fell slightly from the previous December survey - when only two categories
gained ground.
    "Working with an advisor and sticking to a plan can help investors stay
focused on their goals, plus help balance their guaranteed versus variable
investments," Mr. Rooney added.
    Manulife serves more than one in five Canadians with a wide range of
financial services and products and one of our key goals is to help them make
better financial decisions, he said.

    Majority stick to investment style

    Responding to separate survey questions, more than half of Canadians
polled (59 per cent) said they're planning to continue to invest the same
amount this year, while another one in five (19 per cent) said they expect to
invest more.
    Less than a quarter (23 per cent) said they'll invest less in the year
ahead, given the current economic and market environment.
    When asked specifically about impact of the current market conditions,
two thirds (65 per cent) said they have made no change in the way they invest.
Only eight per cent said they permanently changed how they invest, while
another 22 per cent said they're making short-term changes.

    Overall index

    Since its launch in 1999, the Manulife Investor Sentiment Index has
remained in positive territory overall. It peaked at +35 in early 2000, but
fell to +11 in December 2001. During the past two years, the index had
generally remained near six-year highs, above +20, before dropping sharply in
October and again in December.
    The quarterly index monitors how Canadians say they feel about investing
in 10 different categories and vehicles. The index reflects the percentage of
those who say they believe it is a good or very good time to invest minus
those who feel the opposite.

    Investment categories gain ground

    The biggest swing in the latest survey showed up with investment real
estate, which gained sharply, while cash faced the toughest rap from those
surveyed.
    Investment property registered the biggest gain in March, rising 23
points, while cash showed the biggest decline by falling eight points.
Principal residences still remain the most popular investment category - with
a wide lead over every other area.

    
    Highlights

    The Manulife Investor Sentiment Index is based on the following six
investment categories, shown by order of their overall ranking in the survey.

    -   Investing in their own homes (either through renovations or paying
        down the mortgage) remains the most popular place for Canadians to
        put their money - a consistent finding since 1999. The index for
        investing in their own home rose seven points in March to +42. The
        index reflects 55 per cent of those surveyed who said it's a good or
        very good time to invest in their own residence - minus 13 per cent
        who believe it's a bad or very bad time.

    -   Investment real estate overtook cash and fixed investments by gaining
        23 points in March, after quickly falling from its second-place rank
        last March. At +19, investment real estate rebounded from negative
        territory, which it has seen only twice since the survey began.

    -   Cash (including savings accounts) dropped back to the third most
        favourite place to put money at +18. Since 1999, cash had been the
        least favourite place named by Canadians to leave their money, but
        registered a sharp rise as other markets fell out of favour.

    -   Fixed income investments (including GICs and annuities) fell back to
        fourth place among most popular categories, even though it gained
        three points from December to reach +13.

    -   Balanced funds stayed in fifth place among the most-popular
        investment targets, gaining eight points in March after a sharp 33-
        point decline in October. Resting at minus three, the index reflects
        32 per cent who felt balanced funds are a good or very good place to
        invest, compared to 35 per cent who said the opposite in March.

    -   After dropping back sharply last October, equities gained another
        four points in March, to rest at -21. The stocks index reflects 26
        per cent who said it's a good or very good time to invest in stocks,
        either directly or via mutual funds, while 47 per cent saw equities
        as a bad or very bad choice. Another 19 per cent felt it's neither a
        good or bad time to buy shares.

    Investment Vehicles

    As well as evaluating the six investment categories, the same question was
asked of four investment vehicles.

    -   Registered Education Savings Plans held onto the top spot among
        favourite vehicles in March, climbing six points to reach +36 in the
        latest poll. Some 50 per cent of those surveyed said now is a good
        time to invest, compared to 14 per cent who disagreed.

    -   Among Canadians' traditional favourite investment vehicles,
        Registered Retirement Savings Plans held steady in March, showing no
        change from the December poll. At +27, the latest results for RRSPs
        reflect 49 per cent of respondents who feel it's a good or very good
        time to put money into an RRSP, while 22 per cent said they feel it
        is a bad or very bad time.

    -   After a sharp drop in December, segregated funds gained nine points
        in March, to widen its gap over mutual funds. New products, like
        Manulife's IncomePlus, aimed to protect investors from the downside
        of the market, have been popular since the initial launch two years
        ago of the first guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit product in
        Canada.

    -   At -13, the index for mutual funds fell one point in March, following
        a small decline in December on the heels of a 31-point drop in
        October. The latest mutual fund index reflects 26 per cent who said
        now is a good or very good time to invest in mutual funds, while 39
        per cent said it was a bad or very bad time. Another 26 per cent
        answered that it was neither a good or bad time for funds.
    

    The poll by Research House was conducted with 1,005 Canadians aged 18 and
older between March 22 and 26, 2009. The results have a margin of error of +/-
3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

    About Manulife Financial

    Manulife Financial is a leading Canadian-based financial services group
serving millions of customers in 19 countries and territories worldwide.
Operating as Manulife Financial in Canada and Asia, and primarily through John
Hancock in the United States, the Company offers clients a diverse range of
financial protection products and wealth management services through its
extensive network of employees, agents and distribution partners. Funds under
management by Manulife Financial and its subsidiaries were Cdn$405 billion
(US$330 billion) as at December 31, 2008.
    Manulife Financial Corporation trades as 'MFC' on the TSX, NYSE and PSE,
and under '945' on the SEHK. Manulife Financial can be found on the Internet
at www.manulife.com.





For further information:

For further information: Media contact: Tom Nunn, Manulife Financial,
(519) 594-8578, tom_nunn@manulife.com


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