The True Impact of Immediate Annuities on Retirement Sustainability: A Total Wealth Perspective
Michael E. Kitces
The Kitces Report & Nerd's Eye View; Pinnacle Advisory Group
Wade D. Pfau
The American College; McLean Asset Management
July 15, 2013
Past research on systematic withdrawals and annuitization tends to find that partial annuitization reduces the probability of financial asset depletion and may even provide an opportunity to build a larger portfolio legacy value for sufficiently long retirement periods. We agree with these findings, but determine that partial annuitization itself is only the reason for these outcomes in a subset of cases. When retiree wealth is investigated from a total balance sheet perspective, by including the present value of remaining single-premium immediate annuity (SPIA) payments as a way to show the implied stock/bond asset allocation glidepath, a significant portion of the benefits provided by a stocks/SPIA strategy can be explained by the implied rising equity glidepath underlying the approach. Accordingly, we examine the relative success of static portfolios, stock/SPIA portfolios, and dynamic stock/bond portfolios that match the glidepath of a stock/SPIA strategy, in order to separate the impact of the glidepath and the impact of mortality credits into their component parts. The conclusion shows that prior studies which indicated a benefit of partially annuitizing a retiree’s portfolio were often actually showing the benefits of a rising equity glidepath using a bucketed liquidation strategy that spends down fixed assets first and allows the household equity allocation to rise. Although this research finds that SPIAs can enhance retirement success, retirees must live well past life expectancy before the unique mortality credit contribution from SPIAs provides material benefits, as the remainder of the SPIA “benefit” can be replicated simply by using bonds and stocks with a rising equity glidepath. In fact, for those who do not live to life expectancy, the impact of SPIAs is positive only because the value of the rising equity glidepath (which can be replicated without the SPIA) outweighs the negative contribution from mortality credits. Because the primary value of SPIAs accrues for those who live beyond life expectancy, the results also show that inflation-adjusted SPIAs are more effective than fixed SPIAs, due to the larger payments in later years. Given this current research, the primary scenarios where SPIAs should be used are specifically those where the intent is to hedge significant longevity risk beyond life expectancy; in the remaining scenarios for most retirees, though, the more effective way to improve retirement outcomes is simply to implement the rising equity glidepath that bucketed SPIA strategies indirectly create.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 18
Keywords: retirement income, annuities, systematic withdrawals, SPIAs
JEL Classification: C15, D14, G11, G17
Date posted: July 23, 2013
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