Infographic: What Your 401(k) Provider Doesn't Want You to Know
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What Your 401(k) Provider Doesn’t Want You to Know

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What Your 401(k) Provider Doesn’t Want You to Know

Born in 1984, the 401(k) plan gave regular Americans a way to make tax-deductible contributions to a retirement account directly from their paychecks.

Today, it’s the single most important investment vehicle for most people in the country:

  • 90 million Americans participate in 401(k)s
  • $6 trillion in assets are invested in 401(k)s
  • 51% of employers match a portion of employee 401(k) contributions

The only problem? With trillions of dollars at stake, financial firms have scrambled to get their hands in as many 401(k) cookie jars as possible.

And today, the vast majority of plans are characterized by huge commissions, expensively managed funds, and layer upon layer of additional – and often hidden – charges.

Flying Below the Radar

Today’s infographic is from Tony Robbins, and it uses data and talking points from his #1 Best Selling book Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook, which is now available on paperback.

It reveals that although 401(k) plans can be used as crucial vehicles for tax-free retirement saving, 92% of investors admit that they do not have any clue about the fees associated with their plan.

Further, 71% of people enrolled in 401(k)s incorrectly think that there are no fees at all.

The Retirement Savings Drain

Many people are unaware of the types of fees that get loaded onto 401(k) plans – and here are just some of them that get passed to the investor:

  • Investment expenses
  • Communication expenses
  • Bookkeeping expenses
  • Administrative expenses
  • Trustee expenses
  • Legal expenses
  • Transactional expenses
  • Stewardship expenses

How much does this all end up costing?

According to a thinktank report from Robert Hiltonsmith, the additional 401(k) fees can cut down the size of your retirement nest egg by an average of 30% for an average worker earning $30,000 per year (and saving 5%), this ends up being $154,794 over his or her lifetime.

For someone making $90,000 per year, it works out to a whopping $277,000 in 401(k) fees.

Paying to Play

Hidden fees are bad, but this next practice is potentially even worse.

It turns out that most big-name 401(k) providers accept payments from the mutual funds they offer on their plans, as a part of revenue sharing agreements. In other words, many of the funds you get to choose from are not there based on merit – instead, they were the ones that coughed up the money to be there.

Not surprisingly, these tend to be actively managed, expensive funds – some of which even charge a “front-end load” fee of 3% to even buy into.

Why are there so few options to choose from?

  • 93% of 401(k) plans carry under $5 million in total plan assets
  • These are the small and medium-sized companies that make up most of the economy
  • However, they also have the lowest buying power to demand better options for their employees

As a result, most providers offer limited options to their smaller, less lucrative accounts – and the low fee options that are offered are sometimes marked up big time.

For example, one major insurance company offers an S&P 500 index fund for 1.68% annually when the actual cost is 0.05%. That’s a 3,260% markup!

Small Fees Make a Big Difference

How much do these seemingly tiny percentages really hurt savers? More than you think.

Take two people saving for retirement generating the same return – one is charged 1% in fees, and one is charged 2%.

The 1% difference in fees may not sound like much, but through the power of compound interest, it works out to 10 years of extra retirement money!

What to Do About It?

The problems here are systemic, and not any one company is to be blamed. If you want to take action, here’s what you can do:

Examine: Take a look at your plan’s fee disclosures and the expense ratios of mutual funds you’re invested in. If expense ratios are above 1%, you are likely paying too much.

Compare: Look at available fund options and switch to lower fee options if they offer similar levels of performance.

Lobby: If your 401(k) is getting battered by fees, tell your employer. Employers not only have a fiduciary duty to benchmark their 401(k)s, but also to seek the best option for employees.

The journey towards financial freedom is tough enough as it is – and while a 401(k) is a wonderful tool to help you get there, it needs to be used correctly!

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Energy

Ranked: The Largest Oil and Gas Companies in the World

Oil still makes up the largest share of the global energy mix. Here are the largest oil and gas companies by market cap in 2021.

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The Largest Oil & Gas Companies in 2021

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

The pandemic brought strong headwinds for the oil and gas industry, and oil majors felt the blow.

Global primary energy consumption fell by 4.5% relative to 2019 and oil demand declined by 9%. For a brief period in April 2020, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures went subzero, marking the largest one-day price plunge since 1983.

Some expected the demand crash to have a lasting impact on the industry, but it’s safe to say that 2021 has proved otherwise.

Oil Resurfaces as Energy Crisis Deepens

The world is facing a shortage of energy, and peak winter is yet to hit most parts of the globe.

Pandemic-induced supply restraints from producers, in addition to rising energy demand from recovering economies, have sent nations scrambling for petroleum products. Consequently, oil prices are resurfacing to pre-pandemic levels.

As of today, prices of WTI crude futures are at their highest levels in the last five years at over $80 per barrel. Furthermore, U.S. natural gas prices hit a 7-year high of $6.5 per million British thermal units (BTU) earlier this month. Elsewhere, European benchmark natural gas futures have surged 1,300% since May 2020.

Of course, the largest oil and gas companies are riding this wave of resurgence. Using data from CompaniesMarketCap.com, the above infographic ranks the top 20 oil and gas companies by market cap as of October 7, 2021.

Big Oil: The Largest Oil and Gas Companies by Market Cap

Given that we often see their logos at gas stations, the largest oil and gas companies are generally quite well-known. Here’s how they stack up by market cap:

RankCompanyMarket Cap* (US$, billions)Country
1Saudi Aramco$1,979Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦
2ExxonMobil$257.30U.S. 🇺🇸
3Chevron$205.29U.S. 🇺🇸
4Shell$175.28Netherlands 🇳🇱
5PetroChina$162.55China 🇨🇳
6TotalEnergies$130.56France 🇫🇷
7Gazprom$121.77Russia 🇷🇺
8ConocoPhillips$95.93U.S. 🇺🇸
9BP$93.97U.K. 🇬🇧
10Rosneft$84.07Russia 🇷🇺
11Equinor$83.60Norway 🇳🇴
12Enbridge$82.82Canada 🇨🇦
13Sinopec$80.48China 🇨🇳
14Novatek$79.18Russia 🇷🇺
15Duke Energy$78.08U.S. 🇺🇸
16Petrobras$69.91Brazil 🇧🇷
17Southern Company$66.64U.S. 🇺🇸
18Lukoil$64.70Russia 🇷🇺
19CNOOC$52.04China 🇨🇳
20Enterprise Products$50.37U.S. 🇺🇸

*As of October 7, 2021.

Saudi Aramco is one of the five companies in the trillion-dollar club as the world’s third-largest company by market cap. Its market cap is nearly equivalent to the combined valuation of the other 19 companies on the list. But what makes this figure even more astounding is the fact that the company went public less than two years ago in December 2019.

However, the oil giant’s valuation doesn’t come out of the blue. Aramco was the world’s most profitable company in 2019, raking in $88 billion in net income. Apple took this title in 2020, but high oil prices could propel Aramco back to the top in 2021.

Although Standard Oil was split up a century ago, its legacy lives on today in the form of Big Oil. ExxonMobil and Chevron—the second and third-largest companies on the list—are direct descendants of Standard Oil. Furthermore, Shell and BP both acquired assets from Standard Oil’s original portfolio on the road to becoming global oil giants.

The geographical distribution of the largest oil and gas companies shows how global the industry is. The top 20 oil and gas companies come from 10 different countries. The U.S. hosts six of them, while four are headquartered in Russia. The other 10 are located in one of China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, or Europe.

Big Oil, Bigger Emissions

Due to the nature of fossil fuels, the biggest oil and gas companies are also among the biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters.

In fact, Saudi Aramco is the world’s largest corporate GHG emitter and accounts for over 4% of the entire world’s emissions since 1965. Chevron, Gazprom, ExxonMobil, BP, and several other oil giants join Aramco on the list of top 20 GHG emitters between 1965 and 2017.

Shifting towards a low-carbon future will undoubtedly require the world to rely less on fossil fuels. But completely shunning the oil and gas industry isn’t possible at the moment, as shown by the global energy crisis.

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Markets

The World’s Biggest Real Estate Bubbles in 2021

According to UBS, there are nine real estate markets that are in bubble territory with prices rising to unsustainable levels.

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Ranked: The World’s Biggest Real Estate Bubbles in 2021

Identifying real estate bubbles is a tricky business. After all, even though many of us “know a bubble when we see it”, we don’t have tangible proof of a bubble until it actually bursts.

And by then, it’s too late.

The map above, based on data from the Real Estate Bubble Index by UBS, serves as an early warning system, evaluating 25 global cities and scoring them based on their bubble risk.

Reading the Signs

Bubbles are hard to distinguish in real-time as investors must judge whether a market’s pricing accurately reflects what will happen in the future. Even so, there are some signs to watch out for.

As one example, a decoupling of prices from local incomes and rents is a common red flag. As well, imbalances in the real economy, such as excessive construction activity and lending can signal a bubble in the making.

With this in mind, which global markets are exhibiting the most bubble risk?

The Geography of Real Estate Bubbles

Europe is home to a number of cities that have extreme bubble risk, with Frankfurt topping the list this year. Germany’s financial hub has seen real home prices rise by 10% per year on average since 2016—the highest rate of all cities evaluated.

housing bubble index 2021

Two Canadian cities also find themselves in bubble territory: Toronto and Vancouver. In the former, nearly 30% of purchases in 2021 went to buyers with multiple properties, showing that real estate investment is alive and well. Despite efforts to cool down these hot urban markets, Canadian markets have rebounded and continued their march upward. In fact, over the past three decades, residential home prices in Canada grew at the fastest rates in the G7.

Despite civil unrest and unease over new policies, Hong Kong still has the second highest score in this index. Meanwhile, Dubai is listed as “undervalued” and is the only city in the index with a negative score. Residential prices have trended down for the past six years and are now down nearly 40% from 2014 levels.

Note: The Real Estate Bubble Index does not currently include cities in Mainland China.

Trending Ever Upward

Overheated markets are nothing new, though the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamic of real estate markets.

For years, house price appreciation in city centers was all but guaranteed as construction boomed and people were eager to live an urban lifestyle. Remote work options and office downsizing is changing the value equation for many, and as a result, housing prices in non-urban areas increased faster than in cities for the first time since the 1990s.

Even so, these changing priorities haven’t deflated the real estate market in the world’s global cities. Below are growth rates for 2021 so far, and how that compares to the last five years.

housing bubble price increases 2021

Overall, prices have been trending upward almost everywhere. All but four of the cities above—Milan, Paris, New York, and San Francisco—have had positive growth year-on-year.

Even as real estate bubbles continue to grow, there is an element of uncertainty. Debt-to-income ratios continue to rise, and lending standards, which were relaxed during the pandemic, are tightening once again. Add in the societal shifts occurring right now, and predicting the future of these markets becomes more difficult.

In the short term, we may see what UBS calls “the era of urban outperformance” come to an end.

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