Archive for June, 2010

The Annuity Trap

Like the infamous Roach Motel, annuities allow investors to check-in while making it very difficult to check out. In many instances, getting out of annuities can be cost prohibitive (fees, charges, commissions, expenses, etc.), even if escaping these fee-laden products is in the investors’ best financial interest.

In an article dated April 13th, 2010, Jay Peroni warned others by outlining a typical annuity fee structure as follows:

  • Mortality and Expense Charge 1.50%
  • Sub Account Management Fees 1.00%
  • Unreported trading costs 0.78%
  • Annual Administrative Expenses 0.15%

TOTAL ANNUAL EXPENSES 3.43%

What aren’t included in these numbers above are the surrender charges, which effectively can lock you into the annuity if you are averse to paying hefty surrender charges. Normally, the surrender charges vary from up to a 10% charge for large withdrawals in year one, decreasing to something like 1% in year 10. Worth noting, steep sales commissions can be layered on top of the previous charges or mysteriously embedded in the fee structure categories above.

The Big Sell

 

Driving the push for these 3%+ annual fees are lucrative financial institutions hiring aggressive salespeople. Typically annuities are sold under the guise of safe tax shelter investments. What the broker won’t tell you is that only a fraction (“exclusion ratio”) of the annuity payments is shielded from taxes, and the rest of the payments are taxed at the higher, unfavorable ordinary income tax rate (relative to qualified dividends and capital gains from other securities). Much of the time, many of the salespeople, who call themselves “financial advisors,” know little about these complex annuity products (see Financial Sharks article). What these brokers do understand are the big, fat commissions they stand to collect upon fleecing unsuspecting investors.

Scores of these so-called advisors are actually “registered representatives” who do not carry a fiduciary duty (meaning they are NOT required to make investment decisions in the best interest of their clients). Certainly, there are some situations where annuities might be appropriate, but from my experience there are very few cases where the egregious charges and expenses outweigh the benefits. I believe the vast majority of brokers/registered reps/salespeople are more concerned about padding their wallets than building and protecting client portfolios.

The Alternatives

If safety and tax advantages are features you are looking for then I encourage you to look at more efficient options such as the following:

  • 401k Defined Contribution Retirement Plan (or other “Qualified Plan”): Allows you to achieve tax deferral often with free money given to you in the form of a match to your contributions.
  • IRA (Individual Retirement Account): Whether you consider a traditional or Roth IRA, there are tax deferral advantages with lower fees.
  • Low Turnover, High Dividend Portfolios: Using a tax efficient management strategy with better tax treatment of income is another approach that I firmly believe will outperform most annuities.
  • Tax-Exempt Muni Bonds or Corporates: The tax-exempt status of municipal bonds affords investors a tax advantaged status. The after-tax yield on corporate bonds can be compared to the returns promised on annuities (AFTER all fees, charges, and commissions). Holding individual bonds until maturity can help avoid interest rate risk.
  • Ladder Zero Coupon Bonds: If safe fixed payments are what you are looking for, then staggered purchases of zero coupon bonds can be purchased as well.

These are only a few options that could and should be considered when reviewing your personal objectives and circumstances. With regard to the insurance component of an annuity contract, there are more cost effective ways of paying for insurance – most notably, term insurance.

At the end of the day, no matter the financial product, it is important you understand the underlying fees charged on any strategy, along with how the person selling you stuff is compensated. If you don’t do your homework on these extremely complex products (many not regulated by the NASD or SEC), then you may find yourself checking into the annuity hotel, but unable to check out.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 7, 2010 at 12:10 am 1 comment

Blowing the Perfect Investment Game

Photo source: Boston.com

Armando Galarraga, pitcher from the Detroit Tigers baseball team, became a victim of a blown call by umpire Jim Joyce, resulting in a lifetime opportunity being ripped from his clutches. Not only did the error in judgment cost Galarraga a perfect game – a feat only achieved by 20 pitchers over the last 130 years – but the blunder also cost him a no-hitter. Perfect games are difficult to come by in the investment world too, but for those ambitious investors reaching for the finance Hall of Fame, I strongly believe a healthy dosage of international and emerging markets is required to achieve perfection (or significant outperformance).

The Fab Five

The oft quoted view that the U.S. was the dominant economic powerhouse in the 20th century (after Britain controlled the 19th century) led me to analyze five emerging growth markets outside of the U.S. There are some clear leaders in pursuit of 21st century economic supremacy, however nothing in the global pecking order is guaranteed. What I do know is that me and my clients will be relying on the financial tailwinds of growth coming from these international markets to provide excess return potential to my portfolios (albeit at the cost of shorter-term volatility). Even retired individuals, or those with shorter time horizons, should consider small bite sizes of these emerging markets in their portfolios, if merely for some of the diversification benefits (see diversification article).

Pundits and media types endlessly write and talk about the “lost decade,” the demise of “buy and hold,” and/or the “death of equities.” Well, as you can see, the lost decade through the first half of 2010 turned out to be a significantly lucrative period for investors with the stomach and courage to invest outside the familiar comfort zone of the United States (see chart below).

Specifically, here is the international outperformance achieved in the sample of international markets as compared to the United States (S&P 500 Index):

  • Brazil +266.22% (EWZ tracking Bovespa Index)
  • India +266.16% (Bombay Stock Exchange – BSE)
  • Australia +68.16% (ASX 200 Index)
  • China +68.06% (Shanghai Index)
  • Hong Kong +39.74% (Hang Seng Index)
  • United States -128.19% Average Underperformance versus five other geographic indexes.

An added kicker for investment consideration is valuation. According to The Financial Times market data section, all these international markets, with the exception of India, trade at a discount to the S&P 500 on a Price/Earnings ratio basis (P/E).

Victim of Our Own Success

Graph source: The New York Times

In many respects, our country has continued to thrive in spite of some of our political and economic shortcomings. As you can see from the chart below (NY Times article) our country’s market share of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been steadily been declining since World War II (and we’ve still done OK). With U.S. GDP exceeding $14 trillion, our sheer size makes it much more difficult to grow relative to our smaller, more nimble international brethren. Given our top economic position in the world, Warren Buffett succinctly identified the force working against size when he said, “Gravity always wins.” I would expect gravitational influences to continue to weigh us down in the future, but our declining share should not be considered a detrimental trend. Globalization needs to be embraced by policymakers so we can take advantage of these faster growing countries as opportunistic export markets. We Americans can improve our standard of living while riding the coattails of our speedy neighbors. Do yourself a favor and include a healthy chunk of higher growth markets into your portfolio – it’s important you do not blow your own investment game.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper.  

www.Sidoxia.com 

*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including BKF, FXI, EWZ), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 4, 2010 at 1:15 am 3 comments

Happy Birthday Investing Caffeine!

Three hundred sixty-seven days ago Investing Caffeine launched an ambitious drive to share the important truths about investing, financial markets, and personal finances (among other subjects). After a year, some 225 articles, and over 50,000 hits, the site continues to gain momentum and I look forward to offering a unique perspective to thousands of more readers in 2010 and beyond.

Over the last twelve months, here are some of the most heavily trafficked postings along with a few of my favorites (CLICK AWAY!):

Investing Legends

Dubious Declarers

History Revisited

Investment Trends/Themes

It’s Your Money…Invest Wisely         

Investment Lessons

Government Gossip

Investment Trends/Themes

Stock Talk

The last year has been a complete blast and hopefully you’ve enjoyed parts of the ride. Stay tuned for more eclectic articles in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds. Read disclosures provided in article links provided in above posting. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 2, 2010 at 2:15 am 2 comments

Newer Posts


Receive Investing Caffeine blog posts by email.

Join 1,775 other followers

Meet Wade Slome, CFA, CFP®

More on Sidoxia Services

Recognition

Top Financial Advisor Blogs And Bloggers – Rankings From Nerd’s Eye View | Kitces.com

Wade on Twitter…

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share

Subscribe to Blog RSS

Monthly Archives