The coronavirus pandemic and the response by governments and central banks have family offices and ultra-wealthy individuals around the world on the defensive, according to a survey from Citigroup Inc.’s private bank.

About three-quarters of respondents described their 12-month investment sentiment as “cautious.” That increased to 84% when adding those who said they plan to exercise “extreme caution,” according to the survey, which was administered in June and July to about 180 participants. Almost one-in-four said they were concerned about social unrest.

The misgivings come as the global death toll from the pandemic has topped 200,000 in the U.S and almost 1 million globally. The blow from the virus has put gross domestic product on track to grow just 2% in 2020, according to Bloomberg Economics’ projection, which would be the slowest on record since reforms in the late 1970s. About half of respondents in the Citi survey expected total portfolio returns in the next year of only 1% to 5%.

David Bailin, Citi Private Bank’s chief investment officer, said the caution expressed in the survey “may portend” a missed opportunity. Global stocks have recovered quickly from the coronavirus-fueled selloff, rebounding more than 45% since March and hitting a record high earlier this month.

“We envision a period of recovery of small-and medium-sized business and accelerating global growth in 2021 and 2022 based on the amount of stimulus issued by governments and further benefits from innovation globally,” Bailin said.

Liquidity Concerns

Private offices have survived the pandemic in good shape, but at least half said liquidity was a concern, according to Stephen Campbell, chairman of the firm’s private capital group.

“They are positioned to deploy further capital as they see opportunities arise, especially in private markets,” Campbell said, adding that clients are “often willing to sacrifice short- to medium-term returns to maintain” liquidity.

The survey found that 59% of family offices increased their allocation to direct investments, with information technology, health care and real estate the most attractive sectors. More than than half said they intend to take advantage of low interest rates by refinancing, increasing lines of credit or both.

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