Shelter in a stormy market: Guaranteed bonds lock in gains for investors and offer a cushion when shares fall

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The Independent Online
MARKET jitters in the past few months have left savers wondering whether now is the right time to invest in equities.

In the past few months, the FT-SE 100 share index hit 3,520 in February, before dropping to 3,050 in July. Since then, it reached 3,265 again in August, tumbling back to 3,065 at close on Friday.

Guaranteed stock market bonds promise people varying proportions of the FT-SE's gain or their money back plus a certain amount of interest.

But care is still needed when choosing a bond. They are structured on different assumptions of how the market is likely to move in the coming years.

Alan Williams, a consulting actuary at Manor Park, a firm specialising in the design of guaranteed bonds, said: 'What each of these bonds is trying to do is offer some of the potential gains in the market with a cushion should things go wrong. They are aimed at people who are essentially risk-averse.

'But it is investors who make assumptions about market movements rather than companies themselves.'

Birmingham Midshires Building Society recently launched a five-year equity linked savings account, Elsa. It offers to pay savers the highest return achieved by the FT-SE 100 during any one week in the investment period.

Dan Watkins, risk manager at Birmingham Midshires, who helped design the bond, said: 'It is impossible to predict what is going to happen to the market in five or six years. What we are saying to savers is that at whatever point in the cycle the market reaches its high point, they will receive that gain.'

Should the market plunge, savers will get a guaranteed return of just 18 per cent gross. In contrast, General Accident has a five-year Guaranteed Capital Bond which guarantees investors a return of 30 per cent net of basic tax or 95 per cent of any increase in the FT-SE 100 share index if it is greater over the five years.

Save & Prosper offers two different five-year stock market bonds.

One locks in any FT-SE 100 gains when they reach 30, 40 and 50 per cent or a guaranteed return of 115 per cent on invested capital, whichever is greater. The other bond guarantees a minimum 135 per cent of the investment, but without a lock-in.

A Save & Prosper spokeswoman said: 'When we launched the first bond in 1992, 77 per cent of our savers went for the lock-in option. Now only 40 per cent do. It would be fair to say that our investors believe the market is going to rise steadily upwards. They want more exposure to the index.'

Exposure is achieved by allocating between 92 and 95 per cent of funds to equity-linked funds, using the rest to underpin the guarantee. In recent months, the prospect of rising interest rates has reduced the cost of the guarantee.

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