The Wharton Financial Institutions Center from the prestigious Wharton School (of Business) at the University of Pennsylvania released a study
this week providing the first empirical exploration of fixed indexed annuity returns, based upon actual contracts that were sold and actual interest that was credited on those contracts.
The study includes the following findings, none of which should be surprising:
- FIA returns have been competitive with alternative portfolios of stocks and bonds.
- FIA design has limited the downside returns associated with declining markets.
- FIAs have achieved respectable returns in more robust equity markets.
- Studies that have criticized FIAs are typically based on hypothesized crediting rate formulae, constant participation rates and caps, and unrealistic simulations of stock market and interest rate behavior. When actual policy data are used, the conclusions change.
The Wharton study concluded that from 1997 through 2007, for the contracts examined, five-year annualized returns for FIAs averaged 5.79 percent. These returns compare to 5.39 percent for taxable bond funds and 4.73 percent for traditional fixed annuities throughout the same period. The study also found that for the period from April 1996 through December 2008, a specific and typical FIA's returns bested the S&P 500 alone 66 percent of the time, and a 50/50 mix of one-year Treasury bills and the S&P 500 80 percent of the time.
Not surprisingly, the study finds that FIAs are particularly desirable for consumers who are especially concerned with avoiding losses because they are "designed in a way to avoid downside risk [and] they tend to produce preferred return patterns for such [risk-averse] consumers when compared to alternative investment strategies that expose consumers to significant levels of that risk."
The study's conclusion won't be a surprise to those familiar with FIAs:
How will index annuities perform in the future? We do not know, but the concept has proven to work in the past and any articles should reflect this. FIAs were not designed to be direct competitors of index investing nor have FIAs been promoted to provide returns to compete with equity mutual funds or ETFs. The FIA is designed for safety of principal with returns linked to upside market performance.
We already knew that an FIA can be a good product for nearly any consumer and that FIAs are particularly advantageous for risk-averse consumers. The Wharton Financial Institutions Center has now provided a powerful tool -- from a respected an unbiased authority -- to support and substantiate what we already knew.
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