10:32 pm
November 24, 2017

Structured Investment Option and NKTR

Dear Mr. Berko: In March 2013, I bought 500 shares of Nektar Therapeutics at $12. In March of this year, it traded at $24, but now it trades around $19. Should I sell this stock or continue to hold and see whether it will go higher? In June 2013, I invested $100,000 in 10 different no-load mutual funds (list enclosed), which are now worth $166,000. My stockbroker wants me to sell those funds and put the money into a “structured investment option” with AXA Equitable Life Insurance Co. He says the yearly gains (based upon the Standard & Poor’s 500 index) would be capped at 10 percent but I wouldn’t suffer any losses unless the index were to fall by more than 10 percent, at which time I’d lose only that portion of the loss that exceeds 10 percent. And none of the gains or dividend income would be taxable. I think he’s being honest with me. What do you think about this? — PL, Wilmington, N.C.

Dear PL: What a deal. Participate in the market’s upside and avoid the downside. That’s an enormous lie. What fabulous prizes are you helping him win? “Structured investment option” is a disingenuous name for an annuity. In this instance, it’s an index annuity. This cad is not being honest with you. In my opinion, honesty requires full disclosure.

Did this fellow tell you what the commissions costs would be? You should know that he would earn a sweet 6 percent, or almost $10,000, selling you this annuity. That’s a lot of commission.

Did he tell you that the annual annuity costs, including mortality fees, probably would exceed 3.5 percent? Did he tell you that if the index in the annuity account increased in value by 10 percent every year, the annual 3.5 percent fees would reduce your net gains to 6.5 percent? By the way, the S&P 500 has never increased by 10 percent for 10 consecutive years.

If the index were to rise by only 1 percent for the year, then after the 3.5 percent annual fee, your annuity would show a net loss of 2.5 percent. Did he disclose that? And did he disclose the onerous penalties you would have to pay if personal financial circumstances were to require you to cancel this annuity before the usual 10 to 12 years is up? You’re doing well with your 10 no-load funds, so stay the course.

Nektar Therapeutics (NKTR-$18.35) is a goofy $165,000-revenue biotechnology company with 486 employees, $390 million in cash, a ridiculous market cap of nearly $3 billion and a book value of less than 60 cents a share. NKTR, after coming public at $3 a share in 1995, zoomed to $60 five years later but hasn’t posted a profit in 22 years. NKTR develops drugs based on its proprietary PEGylation and polymer technology platform. Its pipeline includes drugs for cancer, autoimmune diseases and chronic pain, all of which are in various stages of clinical trials. NKTR owns a portfolio of licenses with manufacturing and supply agreements with six major pharmaceuticals. Wall Street’s interested in NKTR’s slow-release, nonaddictive painkiller that’s being fast-tracked by the Food and Drug Administration for expedited study. About 2 million Americans are addicted to opioid euphoria. The new drug acts so slowly that there is no euphoria associated with it, which, NKTR claims, prevents addiction. Some caring people think this could be a blockbuster drug. But these caring folks fail to acknowledge that the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars annually to prevent addiction has been an ignominious failure.

Oppenheimer, Vanguard, BlackRock, Invesco, First Trust and State Street together own 58 million shares and agree that NKTR should move higher. Meanwhile, Jefferies, Piper Jaffray, J.P. Morgan and Janney Montgomery Scott have positive research reports on NKTR. And the Street thinks NKTR should earn its first small profit in 2020 and could trade in the high $50s. But I wonder why three senior vice presidents — Steve Doberstein, Maninder Hora and Jillian Thomsen — sold 100,000, 180,000 and 112,000 shares, respectively, in April. I suggest that you be a seller, too.

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