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Author of Tipswatch.com blog, David Enna is a long-time journalist based in Charlotte, N.C. A past winner of two Society of American Business Editors and Writers awards, he has written on real estate and home finance, and is a senior producer on a newspaper Website. The Tipswatch blog, which... More
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  • Warning: There's A Cash-Flow Problem With This 30-Year TIPS 0 comments
    Oct 23, 2013 10:24 PM | about stocks: TIP, TIPZ, TIPX

    I've raised this issue before, and I hope this is actually the last time I need to raise it, since yields on TIPS have risen dramatically since February 2013.

    But here is the problem: If you bid on CUSIP 912810RA8 at Thursday's auction, in a taxable account (such as TreasuryDirect), you will very likely be cash-flow negative until the TIPS matures 29 years, 4 months from now.

    Here are the facts:

    • CUSIP 912810RA8 was originally auctioned on Feb. 21, 2013, with a coupon rate of 0.625%. That coupon rate, the actual interest you receive each year, will never change over the next 29 years.
    • On Thursday, you can buy CUSIP 912810RA8 at a substantial discount, because the yield to maturity is now running about 1.30%. That means you can buy this TIPS at about $83.10 for $100 of value.
    • However, buying at a discount means you are more or less buying a zero-coupon TIPS, so you pay $83 today and get $100 in February 2043.
    • So, let's say you buy $100,000 of this TIPS at auction Thursday, in a taxable account. You'll pay maybe $83,000 for that $100,000 value. (I am ignoring any adjustment for accrued principal since February.)
    • For the next 29 years, you will be getting about $625 of income from the TIPS coupon rate of 0.625%. The yearly payout will grow with inflation, as the TIPS principal rises.
    • Also, the TIPS principal balance will climb with the rate of inflation. So if inflation averages 2.5%, your principal will increase about $2,500 a year, rising with inflation.

    And there is the problem …

    • The IRS views the inflation adjustment to principal a taxable event for the current year. So you'll owe income taxes on $3,125 a year ($625 + $2,500) in 2014. If you are in a 38% federal tax bracket you would owe $1,187.50.
    • But your coupon rate gives you only $625 a year.
    • You are cash-flow negative $562.50. If inflation averages higher than 2.5%, then you'd be even more cash-flow negative.
    • That will continue for 29 years until the TIPS matures and you get your zero-coupon payout of $100,000 plus inflation.
    • At that point, all the money comes to you tax-free, except for the small final interest payment. But it was a long time to wait to go cash-flow positive.

    The solution

    • Don't buy this TIPS in a taxable account.
    • Wait until February 2014, when a new 30-year TIPS will be issued with a coupon rate (hopefully) at 1.54% or higher. That would push your return to tax-flow positive, even in a taxable account, assuming inflation of 2.5%.
    • At 1.54%, you'd get $1,540 in income each year, rising with inflation. At 2.5% inflation you'd get $2,500 in principal adjustment. You'd owe taxes on $4,040. At at 38% tax bracket you would owe $1,535.
    • You are cash flow positive.

    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

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