How do you begin to think about safe investing during deflation? Last week, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the CPI-U fell 0.8% in April. The Consumer Price Index is a basic measure of inflation and has almost always been positive throughout US History. Deflation is not a good environment for building wealth.
While this could be a temporary blip due to falling energy prices in April, we certainly are not out of the woods from the economic damage of the Coronavirus. With 20.5 million people filing for Unemployment in the last two months, there could be an extended reduction in consumer demand. And we know from Econ 101 that when demand shifts down, there becomes an oversupply of goods, and prices fall. That’s deflation.
I think that any deflation will be temporary and that the global economy will recover. But the amount of time this takes could be anywhere from months to years. And while I am studying projections of the depth and duration of this likely recession, my readers know what I think about expert predictions. They are wildly inaccurate. Trying to time the market based on economic predictions is likely to do worse than staying the course.
Deflation Is Anti-Growth
What might deflation mean for investors? Historically, stocks do poorly during deflationary periods. Commodities and Real Assets also can lose value. If millions of people lose their jobs and income, how are they going to afford a mortgage and buy a house? We know from 2008 that house prices can go down when people cannot buy houses.
No one has a crystal ball to know what will happen next. But, I think investors can and will want to make small adjustments to their investment portfolios because of the possibility of deflation. With the market rebounding incredibly well from the March lows, the upside versus downside potential in the near term has worsened.
It is okay to want to have some of your investments in a safe asset. The challenge that we discussed in the previous blog is that we are near zero percent interest rates today on cash, CDs, and Treasury Bills. While this would technically preserve purchasing power in a deflationary environment, we can do better and should be looking to grow.
Fixed Annuities For Capital Preservation
My suggestion for a safe yield today: fixed annuities. This week, I had a client purchase a 5-year annuity at 2.9%. That is 2.6% higher than a 5-year Treasury bond today (0.307%). Both are guaranteed, yet the annuity gets a bad rap. Sometimes, an annuity is the right tool for the job. Sometimes, it is not. Unfortunately, because some unscrupulous salespeople sold annuities which were unsuitable for the buyers, investors have negative perceptions.
I keep bringing them up because they are an objectively effective fixed income solution that many savers would appreciate. Because I want every investor to make informed decisions, here is what you need to know about Fixed Annuities.
- An annuity is issued by an insurance company and is a contract between the company and you. There are many flavors of annuities, but the kind I am discussing today are Fixed Annuities, specifically Multi-Year Guaranteed Annuities (MYGAs).
- A MYGA has a set term (3, 5, 7, or 10 years commonly) and a fixed rate of return. In this aspect, it behaves similarly to a CD.
- An Annuity is a tax-deferred retirement vehicle. You will not pay any taxes on the gains from the annuity, until you withdraw the money. At the end of the term, you can roll into a new annuity and continue to defer the gains. This is called a 1035 Exchange. There are no income restrictions or contribution limits to annuities.
- If you withdraw from an Annuity before age 59 1/2, there is a 10% penalty on the gains. Annuities are most popular with investors over 55, but younger people who know they are not going to need the money until retirement can also use a MYGA towards retirement saving. You can invest IRA money (Traditional, Roth, etc.) into an Annuity, too.
- There are often large penalties if you withdraw money from an annuity before its term is complete. For this reason, it is very important to have other sources of liquid assets. That way you can remain in the annuity for the full term.
- What happens if an Insurance Company fails? Annuities are insured at the State level by a mandatory Guaranty Association. In Texas, all insurers pay premiums to the Texas Guaranty Association, which protects annuity holders up to $250,000. This information is for educational purposes only and is not an inducement to buy insurance. If you have more than $250,000 to invest, spread your money over several insurance companies to stay under the covered limit.
How to Use MYGAs
A MYGA is a good substitute for a bond or bond fund. They offer safety and capital preservation, but with a higher rate of return than cash, CDs, or T-Bills available today. While there are some corporate and municipal bonds with higher yields, they are generally not guaranteed and carry risk that the issuer could default and be unable to pay. That’s especially a problem during deflation, as bankruptcies could increase significantly, causing losses to bondholders.
The main trade-off with MYGAs is the lack of liquidity. We want to keep annuity purchases to a reasonable size. I also recommend creating a 5-year ladder, where you divide your total investment into 5 pieces which will mature in 1,2,3,4, and 5 years. Then in each subsequent year, you will have access to 20% of your investment, should you need it. And what you don’t need, you can reinvest into a new 5-year annuity at the top of the ladder.
Lastly, for transparency, Annuities pay a commission. If someone purchases a MYGA from me, the insurance company will pay me a commission on the sale. I generally view commissions as a conflict of interests. However, I’d point out that a 2.9% yield on a MYGA is the net return to the investor.
There are no investment advisory fees for Annuities. For some reason, I don’t hear very many Investment Advisors mentioning that to their clients when they bash Annuities! I want what is going to be best for you. If that’s an annuity, fine, and if not, that’s fine too. The minimum investment on most annuities is $10,000, but if you have a smaller amount, let me know.
Stay Diversified, Increase Safer Positions
Safe investing during deflation can be a challenge. Low interest rates aren’t helping investors. I will continue to recommend diversified portfolios which may have 50% or more in stocks for long-term investors. Still, there is a role for safe investments for most portfolios, and many people may want to have more safe investments. They offer ballast against the risk of stocks and the diversification can give a smoother trajectory to your overall return.
Given the strong rebound we have had from the March 2020 crash, this may not be a bad time to reevaluate your risk profile. If that thought process has you wondering about safe investing during deflation, lets talk about MYGAs. I am an independent agent and can offer annuities from many different companies to find you the best features and rate for your needs.