A financial magazine published an article about index annuities that cited my findings from the actual return data I collect, quoting that the average annual index annuity return was around 5.6% for the 5 years ending September 30, 2008.
The article then said, “In other words, an investment that’s often marketed as a safer way to own stocks delivered bond-like returns.”
This summation neglects a key point, also made in my study–that the annual return for the top-selling index mutual fund for the same period was 5.05%. Therefore, the average index annuity earned 0.5% more than the top index fund for the 5-year period.
Put another way, a product design that is not intended to produce “stock market returns” has in fact beaten the stock index for half of the 5-year periods recorded.
Consider: if averaging returns for all the 5-year periods, the average annualized index annuity gain was 6.25%. By comparison, the average annualized period gains for the S&P 500 was 4.2%. (Note: the ending date for the 2002 5-year period was January 2 but all other 5-year periods ended at September 30.)
Before jumping to the conclusion that might seem justified by the actual data–namely, that one should never own stocks or mutual funds when an index annuity is available–readers should factor in some qualifiers.
First, index annuities have had annual returns to report for only a dozen years, and even in those dozen years, data was only available from a few carriers in the early years. So today’s data may not be an indicator of future performance, since many more insurers are now in the market.
In addition, the index annuity carriers who participated in the studies may not have supplied the returns for all of their products in the specified periods. This means that the figures given are representative but may not be exact.
Also, the average 4.2% S&P index return mentioned above does not include the roughly 2% the policy owner would have earned from reinvested dividends in an index fund over the very same years. (But, then, neither does that 4.2% figure factor in a deduction for fund fees).