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Funds tailor products for the nest egg

(NEW YORK) Wall Street has repeatedly sounded alarms to spur working Americans to save more for retirement, but it has been less interested in helping convert nest eggs to spendable, post-paycheque income.

Of course, mutual funds emphasising dividends have long been available, along with plans for withdrawing principal. More recently, the industry has offered life-cycle funds that become more conservative as investors age. And some companies have been offering advice, like the so-called Monte Carlo calculations, that show the odds of what a given rate of spending will provide for the rest of one’s life.

Yet many investors, even those without traditional pensions, still reach retirement with only the vaguest notion of how to switch from accumulating assets to tapping them to finance their usual standard of living.

Now, however, as the first baby boomers start to collect Social Security cheques, fund sponsors are coming up with a series of new products catering mainly to those who are knocking at the gates of retirement – or are already inside.

‘As you enter the phase where you’re going to be receiving income and drawing down assets, you need a different style of investment,’ said Keith Hartstein, president of the John Hancock Funds. ‘You need a targeted distribution fund as opposed to the accumulation type.’

At least a half-dozen sponsors, including Fidelity Investments and the Vanguard Group, have either begun marketing retiree-oriented funds or have announced plans to do so.

More are undoubtedly on the way, predicted Burton Greenwald, a mutual fund consultant in Philadelphia.

‘It’s a natural evolution,’ he said. ‘All the major fund sponsors will have such products in a short period of time.’

Investors can choose among significantly different approaches. Some retirees will expect a specific monthly payout while others will favour a variable amount, based on what the portfolio generates. Some will want a fund whose principal is depleted by a certain year – say, 2028 – while others will want one that leaves assets for their heirs.

But while some funds offer annuity-like features, and expect to make consistent payouts, none carry an annuity’s contractual guarantee of specific payouts.

One of the first firms off the mark this fall was Fidelity, whose Income Replacement Funds come with a choice of 11 targets, or time horizons, from 2016 to 2036. You specify how big a cheque you want each month to be paid from the portfolio’s earnings from other Fidelity stock and bond funds, supplemented with as much of your principal as is necessary.

If all goes well, your payment will rise each year to keep pace with inflation. The asset allocation of the fund shifts more toward bonds as the years pass. By the horizon date, the fund is liquidated.

Vanguard’s entry, called Managed Payout Funds, is expected to be available in December or January, and is not intended to deplete itself. But whether it can sustain payouts without returning at least some shareholder capital will depend on investment results.

Vanguard will set the payout annually, based on fund performance for the three preceding years: The Real Growth fund expects an initial 3 per cent distribution rate, the Moderate Growth fund a 5 per cent rate and the Capital Preservation fund a 7 per cent rate. Lower payouts imply a greater probability of long-term growth and capital appreciation; Vanguard, unlike Fidelity, will invest in a broad spectrum of asset classes to include commodities, real estate and a new market-neutral fund.

Diversity of assets, with little performance correlation to one another, can aid capital preservation as well as returns.

‘The availability of a distribution service in a fund without having to sign up and move assets and try to figure out where to take them is an attractive vehicle for people,’ said Ellen Rinaldi, a principal in Vanguard’s investment counselling and research unit.

Retirees want access to their money, she added, and unlike annuities, which tie up your principal, mutual funds provide it.

What distinguishes John Hancock’s proposed Retirement Income Portfolio and Retirement Rising Income Portfolio from the Vanguard funds is that the dividend is fixed in dollars and cents. In the Rising Income portfolio, it climbs by the inflation rate each year.

At Charles Schwab, the Premier Income fund, with three share classes and a minimum investment of US $100, was started at the end of October after raising US$116 million during a four-week subscription period. The fund is focused purely on income, not a combination of income and total return, the way some competitors’ offerings are, said Patrick Waters, Schwab’s director of retirement investment products.

Other new offerings tailored for retirees are three funds from the Russell Investment Group with specific payouts for 10 or 20 years. They are to be available early next year.


Source: NYT (Business Times 28 Nov 07)

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