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The Last of the Americans - 22/03/2023

There have largely been two types of contingent capital protection barriers utilised in the UK retail structured investment sector over its evolution: European and American. One of which is about to become extinct.

European Barriers can only be breached at the end of the maximum investment term, provided the investment did not mature prior. Commonly seen is a 65% European barrier whereby capital is protected against falls in the underlying, at maturity of up to 35%. If the investment does not mature positively and at the end of term the underlying is 34% lower, all original capital would be returned, however if the underlying was 36% lower, only 64% of the original capital would be returned.

American Barriers were far more prevalent in the early years of the UK retail sector’s evolution but are soon to be extinct. Such barriers are observed daily throughout the full term to the extent that if the underlying falls below the barrier level on any day during the term there is no downside protection at the end of the term. For example, consider a 60% American barrier where the underlying falls 40.1% in the early years, a positive maturity is not subsequently triggered and the underlying finishes the term below the strike level by any percentage. The investment will suffer a loss in line with the fall in the underlying over the term, no matter how small.

How do European (End of Term) and American (Full Term) Barriers work?

American vs European Barriers

Source: Lowes ‘A Guide to Retail Structured Products’

Over the years the prevalent use of American barriers was replaced with the end of term only, European variety to the extent that there have been no American variations utilised since 2017. Whilst there have been very few examples of any barrier breaches to loss making effect, this evolution towards end of term only barriers has been welcome, improving structured investments for the investor and making the defined outcomes more binary and as such, simpler to understand.

The last of the Americans are three income plans from Investec released in 2017 with 50% daily observed American barriers on the FTSE 100 Index. Two of these are due to mature at the end of April and the final one standing is due to mature at the start of June. Whilst it would admittedly take a catastrophic collapse between now and then to breach their barriers, we feel the retail sector will be an even better proposition once these barriers are no more.

Below gives an indication of where the last of the American barriers sit in relation to the European barriers for FTSE 100 linked UK retail structured investments.

Index Barriers for FTSE 100 UK Retail Structured Products

American vs European Barriers

We must acknowledge that it is mostly, always a matter of risk and reward in that a structure with an equivalent American barrier should offer a higher potential return than one with a European barrier but we think the retail sector is better for seeing the back of the intra term variations. We can now sleep a little better knowing that (hopefully) the last of the American barriers used in the sector will soon be gone.

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