Timing, Turning Bad into Good

by Heber G. Smith

This article was originally published in the autumn 1998 issue of the Expert Witness.

In the past, my financial advisors were quick to remind me how splendidly they were handling my finances. More recently, however, they are somewhat sheepish discussing the more than modest shrinkage in my meager retirement assets, referring to such world events such as the Asian Crisis and the Russian meltdown as possible causes.

Upon closer scrutiny, I discovered what may have been long apparent to investors more skilled than I — that portfolio performance isn’t always a function of management but of timing. During a bull market, most equity positions increase in value but during bear markets, the converse is usually true. To make matters worse, an investor who is dependent on a market-based portfolio for needed income, will find that the concept of dollar cost averaging works against him/her when withdrawing regular fixed dollar sums from equity portfolios during a bear market. The timing of such sells to satisfy fixed income requirements dictates that, on average, more assets are sold low than are sold high. In order, therefore, to enable a personal injury client to reap the income required for the settlement duration, we suggest that an action settled during the early stages of a bull market is best. Consider the following chart (below left), which illustrates regular withdrawals of $1,200 per month adjusted for a 25% tax rate when $250,000 is invested in the TSE 300 in the fall of 1992. The result is an increasing portfolio value.

Figure 1

Figure 2

* An assumption of stock market cyclicity of 6 years was used so that the same TSE 300 data repeated every 6 years leaving the starting time as the differentiating variable.

Conversely, a different picture appears if the same $1,200 per month adjusted for tax is withdrawn from the same sized portfolio beginning in the spring of 1998 (above right). Under this scenario, the personal injury claimant has the added anxiety of wondering whether his funds may dissipate before their specified time. Unfortunately for the claimant, a personal injury settlement date is not dependent and timed for receipt according to stock market investment cycles.

Hope in the ability to time markets need not be as critical a factor. By using a combination of a structured settlement and dollar cost average purchases in the TSE 300, one can reduce risk and, during volatile markets, virtually assure an increase in settlement withdrawal periods.

Consider providing for a claimant’s income requirements via a structured settlement for the first 16 years and the purchase of a second annuity to support the dollar cost average purchases in the TSE 300 over the same period. The following graph depicts the value of the investment fund at the end of the 16 years when purchased in the spring of 1998 in comparison to the value of the investment fund purchased by using an annuity and dollar cost averaging over the same period.

Figure 3

So what makes it all work? It is the combination of financial planning tools; diversification and risk reduction that go a long way to turn what could be bad timing into good (or at least better timing). But the biggest factor is the imputed contribution made to the settlement by Revenue Canada Taxation in the way of tax forgiveness on the interest element of the annuity contract supporting the settlement. In combination, the above enables a claimant to grow the investment fund prior to withdrawals thereby increasing the number of payment periods and reducing anxiety due to dissipating funds.


Heber Smith is the principal of Smith Structured Settlements Inc. a structured settlement and annuity brokerage with offices in Calgary and Vancouver. He is also a partner in Structured Settlement Software, a firm that provides tax driven software to the American structured settlement industry.