Investors are feeling much more optimistic about the market and the economy than they have been in three years, according to the John Hancock Investor Sentiment Index, a quarterly gauge of investors’ view of the current economic climate.

In the first quarter of 2013, the index hit a three-year high, jumping six points to +24  from +18 in the final quarter of 2012. 

Investors registered significantly more positive attitudes toward investing in stocks, balanced mutual funds and real estate than they did in the previous quarter, according to the index. More than half of the investors believe that now is a good time to invest in stocks (58%) and balanced mutual funds (57%), up from 48% and 50%, respectively, in the fourth quarter of 2012. Almost two-thirds (64%) cited real estate as a good investment, up from 59% in the previous quarter.

The majority (70%) believe 2013 will be a positive year for the average U.S. investor, and 68% are optimistic that two years from now, the U.S. economy will be stronger. Almost half (48%) say their financial position is better now than it was in 2011, up significantly from the last two quarters.

“We are seeing a remarkable shift in sentiment on the part of investors,” Bill Cheney, John Hancock’s chief economist, said in a statement. “They are showing much more optimism about their financial positions overall.”

One issue, however, clouded their overall optimistic outlook: health care costs. More than two-thirds of investors (69%) are very or somewhat concerned about being able to afford high-quality healthcare, with 58% worried about being able to afford nursing home or long-term care.

Worries about political gridlock also run high, with 58% very concerned about the situation. Other top concerns include potential changes to Social Security and Medicare and the effect of government budget cuts on business.

The index is based on John Hancock’s Investment Sentiment Survey, a quarterly online poll of affluent investors. The most recent survey, conducted from February 11 – 22, 2013, canvassed 1,066 investors with a household income of at least $75,000 and assets of $100,000 or more.

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