Structured security products (SSPs) encompass a range of financial instruments, such as securities that derive their value from, and provide exposure to, various asset classes, including, among other things, a single security, baskets of securities, indices, options, commodities, debt issuances and/or foreign currencies.
SSPs are a subset of such securities products and are generally registered under the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”) in order to facilitate their offerings to retail investors.
These registered securities are generally offered to retail investors in the form of medium-term or short-term corporate debt with exposure to a variety of asset classes issued by an affiliate of a broker-dealer, and then distributed by that broker-dealer. The issuer of the obligation is typically the parent public company of the affiliated broker-dealer underwriter.
SSPs intended for retail distribution, which are sometimes listed on an exchange, typically have some form of option or other embedded financial derivative exposure. They may be described as offering, among other things, partial or full “principal protection,” higher interest payments, or leveraged and/or asymmetrical exposure to the underlying asset class. SSPs are often quite complex and can present wide-ranging risks and regulatory issues, including suitability and disclosure concerns, limited liquidity, comparatively opaque and often expensive fee structures, paucity of secondary market activity, and difficulty in pricing. They also pose supervisory, compliance and sales training challenges.
Total U.S. sales of SSPs (to both retail and institutional investors) had risen from approximately $32 billion in 2004 to in excess of $100 billion in 2007. The demise of Lehman Brothers Holding Co. and its associated default on many SSPs it had issued and distributed, as well as its default on other of its structured products had a sobering effect across the SSP market in 2008. Nonetheless, SSPs seem to have resumed an overall upward sales trend in 2009 and 2010, and SSP sales to retail investors have, on an estimated basis, risen from $34 billion in 2009 to $45 billion in 2010.
SSPs can generally be classified into five basic categories with varying payouts and risks:
The most basic category has been referred to as partial or full “principal protected” notes. Such notes typically have returns linked to broad-based equity indices, such as the S&P 500, Nikkei 225, and Nasdaq. The basic “principal protected” SSPs might have maturities of five years or more, but they usually have a duration of 6 months to 2 years.
The next category – enhanced-income notes – typically pays a higher coupon base and has capped returns tied to the value/performance of the underlying asset and may include at least some level of “principal protection.” The underlying assets for enhanced income notes typically include single stocks, baskets of stocks, and indices. Enhanced-income notes with indices as the underlying reference are typically coupled with increased principal protection and have longer maturities and lower yields than others. Enhanced income notes typically have maturities of 5 years or less with the majority having maturities of 1.5-2 years.
Another category, performance/market participation notes are linked to underlying assets such as gold, or investment strategies, such as long-short strategies, that are not otherwise easily accessed by small investors.
The fourth category is leveraged/enhanced participation notes that offer a leveraged upside (with a leveraged risk of loss). (For example, the notes may pay a return two to three times the return on the underlying, usually with a cap on the return and no principal protection.
In the fifth category, these basic forms are often adjusted and/or combined with each other to form numerous other types of SSPs, most notably reverse convertible notes (“Reverse Convertibles” or “RCNs”). With Reverse Convertibles investors are, in essence, purchasing a security with the sale of a put option embedded in it (some call option-SSPs are also offered). The payout for a typical equity-linked reverse convertible note is a high-level interest rate plus a return of principal at maturity if the equity increases in value (or stays the same) over the term of the note.
Tomorrow’s blogticle will contain a discussion relating to life insurance.
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