What annuity option should I choose?

I am approaching the age of retirement after a career in teaching, and I have a couple of options for taking my pension. One option is to take a single life annuity benefit of $1,040 per month. The other option would give me a lump sum of $35,320 plus a reduced monthly benefit of $793. Which one would be better for me?

The best answer will depend on your unique set of circumstances. A general rule of thumb is to base this choice on your life expectancy. If you live for many years, you’ll collect more by taking the larger annuity. If you live for relatively few years, you’ll collect more with the lump sum.

There are two main risks involved in this choice. One is that you might live a very long time. The other is inflation. Unless your annuity payment is protected by a cost-of-living adjustment, inflation will erode your monthly income over time. (more…)

Inflation and our Merriman bond portfolio

Here’s an article we recently mailed to Merriman clients, addressing some inflation questions that we felt our FundAdvice readers may also be interested in:

Some investors are concerned about the prospect of future inflation, based on fiscal and monetary measures the U.S. government has taken to respond to the recent market crisis. However, other metrics suggest that moderate inflation will continue. These include current inflation, bond market indicators and worldwide excess capacity.

Merriman’s recommended bond portfolio is structured to provide a reasonable level of protection against inflation.

The Fed’s view

The Federal Reserve, in a statement on April 28th said, “With substantial resource slack continuing to restrain cost pressures and longer-term inflation expectations stable, inflation is likely to be subdued for some time.”

Notwithstanding this reassuring if somewhat abstruse statement, there is considerable debate about whether higher inflation will result from the fiscal and monetary actions the federal government used to curtail the market plunge from October 2007 to March 2009. Inflation is the nemesis of bond investors. An increase in inflation will cause an increase in interest rates and decrease the value of bonds. Conversely, if interest rates were to fall because of lower inflation, bond prices would rise.

What factors impact inflation and how is our bond portfolio structured to handle inflation risk? (more…)

Inflation, politics, history and investments

Fear is never far from investors’ minds, especially during tumultuous times like these. Nervous investors will always find plenty of authors, gurus, prognosticators and analysts who are willing and able to feed these fears.

Fear isn’t necessarily bad. It’s one of the two primary psychological forces that drive the market (the other, of course, being greed). When you’re ready to buy an asset, you want to get the lowest possible price. Logically you should hope that the seller is fearful and eager to sell.

Fear can also be useful by reminding us that risk actually exists and bad things can happen when people plunge ahead in spite of warning signs they should be noticing.

However, it’s easy to get carried away and lose sight of the facts. This can happen to even the smartest investors. A case in point is one of my clients (I’ll call him Jim here, though that’s not his real name), a veteran scientist with a distinguished career at a large, successful company. (more…)

Sell TIPS to hedge against higher interest rates?

Is now the time to buy more TIPS in my 401(k) or to sell TIPS as a hedge against rising interest rates next year? I’m 57 years old and wonder if I should buy a short-term investment grade bond fund before interest rates go up. Or is it better to buy them when interest rates are much higher?

I cannot recommend what you should do because I have very little information about your situation, other than your age. But I can give you some pointers that might help you think about these questions.

You are asking questions involving market timing and also about your overall asset allocation. To get answers that make sense, you need to think clearly and logically about this. Bonds and bond funds are not quite as simple as you might think.

As Paul Merriman has written before, there are three rational reasons to own TIPS and other fixed-income funds. First, you might want to buy low and sell high in order to make a profit. Second, you might want these funds so you can collect the income they provide. Third, you might want them in order to dampen the volatility of the equities in your portfolio. (more…)