Question: I recently retired from the government. In addition to my civil service annuity of $26,000, I have about $30,000 invested in the stock market and another $30,000 in Treasury bills. My house is paid off and I have no major depts. Since I am not an investment expert, I went to a financial planner for advice.
He went over my income and expenses in detail. I told him my objectives were to maximize investment income and minimize income tax, meanwhile protecting the safety of my principal.
He suggested I put $15,000 in each of the following: real estate limited partnerships, oil and gas limited partnerships, a limited partnership in corporate leasing programs and stocks with call options. (The first three would be placed with him.)
I did a little research, and I'm not sure these would be the right investments for me. What do you think?
Answer: I think this "financial planner" is primarily a salesman for the products he sells. And even though I can't really make a thorough analysis based on the limited information in your letter, I also think he gave you poor advice.
But I have to qualify these remarks. In the first place, this is not a blanket indictment of financial counselors who also represent financial organizations and accept commission for the sale of investment products.
Many such people -- probably most, in fact -- are conscientious planners who are sincerely interested in providing advice (and products) that fit the client's needs.
But as in any other profession, some financial counselors (including both those who do and those who do not sell products) are not as well-qualified or as cleint-oriented as others.
Second, I must confess that financial planning is more of an art than a science, and recommendations are always based on the individual counselor's investment biases and view of the economic situation.
With those caveats, my feeling is that investment in limited partnership's of any type (including the three mentioned in your letter) should be limited to investors with a minimum of $150,000-$200,000 in capital and at least $50,000 in annual taxable income.
A limited partnership must be considered speculative. In addition, one of their main advantages is as a tax shelter; and the trade-off between risk and tax shelter doesn't look inviting until you get close to the 50 percent tax bracket. In your financial situation I would stay away from them.
Writing stock options is not quite as speculative, but it requires constant monitoring. With a $15,000 stake you can't expect a broker to monitor your account on a regular basis.
An option can reduce your losses in a falling market (downside protection), but it also serves to limit your gains in a rising market. Unless you are prepared to watch the option market daily and to act on changes, you can get hurt.
I can't give you specific advice because I don't know enough about your financial situation. As a textbook problem, my solution would be to put about $10,000 in a money market fund to take advantage of present high yields -- around 12.5 percent.
I would leave perhaps $20,000 in the stock market, concentrating on high quality stocks yielding a good return now and with a history of fairly regular increases in the dividend rate.
The balance I would place in bonds -- municipals if your tax bracket is 32 percent or higher, otherwise corporates. These could be individual issues in five-bond lots (that is, $5,000 face amount).
Or you could buy units in either corporate or municipal unit trusts. Although you pay sales and management fees (both relatively small), the unit trusts offer the advantages of professional selection, good safety (all rated "A" or better), and monthly interest checks (as opposed to semiannual payments with single issues).
Remember that you don't need a great deal of inflation protection from your investments, since your principal source of retirement income -- your government annuity -- has a built-in inflator.
Your main concerns -- maximum income with safety -- would be satisfied with this portfolio. And, although these days no investment can be classed as "buy and forget," this package would call for only occasional review as economic conditions change.