What the heck are “Alpha Contracts?” Can you really “Lock in $52,000 with just 4 clicks of the mouse?”

What's being teased by Contract Income Alert?

Alpha Contracts! That’s what’s being teased by the Agora Financial folks these days, all as part of a pitch for Zachary Scheidt’s Contract Income Alert.

We haven’t covered this particular letter before, but have covered a few income-oriented pitches by Zach Scheidt for his other letters over the years, mostly talking up dividend-paying stocks and options income strategies. They say that this new “Contract Income” service was launched quietly a year and a half ago, and that if you signed up back then…

“Over the course of the last 18 months this experiment locked-in the opportunity for over $360,000 in real income!

“Not hypothetical…real locked-in gains!

“That’s more than most doctors or lawyers earn in an entire year!”

But this time, of course, there’s a deadline coming up! (Remember, they always include a deadline — if there wasn’t a deadline, they’d be taking the risk that you’d think it over… always bad for impulse purchases).

More from the ad:

“YOU MUST ACT BY FRIDAY, JUNE 1ST AT MIDNIGHT

“World’s #1 Financial Publisher Makes Stunning Announcement…

“Forget Stocks… They’re Way too Risky. (Try this Instead)

“Shocking Video Reveals How to Lock in $52,000 With Just 4 Clicks of the Mouse—Without EVER touching stocks or options!”

OK, so yes, we know that if we’re not “touching” stocks or options, then the opportunities for income that you can pitch to a large group of possible investors are pretty limited. What, then, is this “secret” way of generating income?

Don’t worry, we’ll get to your answers… but just to get you revved up all the way, here’s some more of the pitch (which is signed by publisher Matt Insley, though it’s about Zach Scheidt’s newsletter and strategy):

“… what he’s uncovered with ‘Alpha Contracts’ is the closest thing I’ve ever found to a ‘holy grail’…

“They allow you to ‘lock in’ income checks without exposing yourself to the whims of the market, corrupt CEOs and fraudulent accounting practices.”

And he gives several examples of the income you can “lock in” from some companies that you’ve heard of…

“In just minutes, and four mouse clicks, you’ll watch this former HR worker lock in checks of:

  • $12,700 from Coach
  • $12,995 from Ford Motor Co.
  • $14,000 from Sabine Pass
  • $12,305 from Bank of America

“Total that up… that’s exactly $52,000 in less than 5 minutes of work.

“And here’s the crazy part…

“He won’t buy a single share in any of these companies…

“He won’t sell an option contract…

“And he certainly won’t collect a dividend…

“Instead he’ll tap into an overlooked asset class I call an ‘Alpha Contract’

Sounds miraculous, right? Who wouldn’t want to be able to get that kind of income without risking your money in the stock market? Brilliant!

Oh, wait, they didn’t mention how much you have to invest to get that income.

That’s pretty typical of income-focused newsletters — they love to trot out big numbers and talk about the regular folks who pulled in $50,000 or $200,000, counting on the fact that you’re probably going to assume that those folks invest similar amounts to you… and if you happen to have $100,000 in your retirement portfolio, for example (the average for folks near retirement, the people who generally sign up for investment newsletters, is about $160,000), then $50,000 in income sounds FANTASTIC.

Sorry, that’s not what they’re talking about here. To make 50% returns over anything less than a decade, you’d probably need to take risks with the stock market… not rely on the lower-risk-of-loss “Alpha Contracts.”

More on these “Alpha Contracts”….

“Fill in the ‘Alpha Contract’ number…

“You can instantly lock in promised gains ranging from $5,092 to as much as $29,285 each and every month!”

And a few examples of past recommendations they’ve made…

“February’s recommendation, Alpha Contract 63530QAH2, locked in $22,031

“January’s Alpha Contract 16412XAG0 locked in $59,440…

“All told, over the last 18 months you could’ve locked in over $360,720 in legally guaranteed income checks!”

And it’s not until after you’ve got those numbers like “$5,092 to as much as $29,285 each and ever month” in your head, that they pull out probably the most important sentence:

“Of course, the more you put in, the more you stand to collect…”

And the corollary, added by yours truly: “The less you put in, the less you stand to collect.”

Makes it sound a little less exciting, right? We all know that “there’s no free lunch,” and that “it takes money to make money” in the investing world, but sometimes we also hope, just a wee bit, that there’s a secret that we can use to get past those laws of the investing jungle.

There’s not, really. Sorry. Get lucky, save more, achieve some brilliant insight into market dynamics and don’t tell anyone your trading strategies, or watch the fees and let your investments in quality companies compound for decades, those are pretty much the main four ways to get rich by investing, which is a lot harder than getting rich by doing actual work or building an actual business.

This all assumes you’re not in the “born rich” camp, of course — if you’ve got that $50 million trust fund, you can afford to do what you want, to be either extremely conservative or extremely aggressive as your heart desires.

Sorry… lets get back on track — so that’s the basic promise of these “Alpha Contracts” …

“You can lock in thousands of dollars in income checks… with ZERO risk from the stock market.

“You read that right…

“With Alpha Contracts, you NEVER have to worry about a stock market crash again!”

So what, pray tell, are they talking about? Now that I’ve made you wait this long, I can confirm that yes, what they’re talking about are bonds.

Yep, sorry. “Alpha Contracts” are just corporate bonds. And really, it’s pretty certain that they’re all going to be what we often call “junk bonds.”

And he does squeeze in that technicality, presumably required by Agora’s lawyers, that yes, this, too, could lose money:

“Heck, even if the stock loses 99% of its value overnight…

“YOU ARE OBLIGATED TO GET PAID! ….

“Of course, no investment is completely risk-free, including this one. But I’ll explain how this is one of the best plays you can make.”

And he runs through a bunch of examples of when these “Alpha Contracts” (bonds) were better than stocks — here’s a taste of one of those:

“… iHeartMedia…

“This is a new company struggling to find their niche in the online media world.

“This company was highly overvalued, and in just over two years it lost close to 87% of its share price…

“And while analysts wanted to point at falling revenue, overvaluations or the plummeting
P/E ratio…

“If you punched in the Alpha Contract number, that’s all irrelevant…

“While stockholders lost almost 90% of their investment…

“Alpha Contracts could’ve ‘locked in’ a legally guaranteed $8,400 windfall!”

That’s true, I suppose. iHeartMedia (IHRT) filed for bankruptcy back in mid-March because they could no longer pay their debt obligations (that would have required about $1.8 billion in interest payments this year). According to this article, it’s likely that they’ll sell off some of their radio stations, sell the equity they own in Clear Channel Outdoor, and distribute that to the debt holders, along with some new debt to replace the old senior debt, and essentially all of the equity of the company. So whatever’s left after they clean everything up, the bondholders will own.

Close-up scan of bond certificate.

And yes, that’s all a bond is — a stock is buying part ownership of a company, a bond is lending money to a company. And all of the stuff about the income being “required by law” is true — bonds are contracts, and once you’ve bought a bond the company has to keep paying your interest and pay back the full principal at the end of the term. That does distinguish bonds from stocks, since dividends are essentially voluntary — companies can and do change their dividend all the time, or stop paying a dividend if times get bad.

Of course, in almost all cases bond coupon payments are fixed for the life of the bond, too — so if the bond matures in ten years, you’ll be getting the same interest payment each year (they usually pay in two installments per year, technically) until maturity… if inflation soars to 8% in five years, for example, and checking accounts are paying 8% interest, you’ll still be getting the same income of, for example, 6% on your investment, even if it doesn’t look as appealing in that environment. As long as the company stays solvent and can repay the principal at the end of the term, you’re still technically doing OK and haven’t lost any money — though that principal that’s returned to you at maturity could have substantially less buying power than it did when you bought the bond.

I haven’t looked at the filings or the formula for that iHeartMedia bond, but heavily indebted companies can be dangerous both to the equity holders and to the bondholders who lend them money — the equity gets wiped out first if the company can’t handle their debt service, so iHeartMedia has given up the $500 million or so in equity value they had as recently as 2015, but that $500 million in equity was riding on more than $20 billion in debt, and as far as I can tell they’ve never really made enough money to cover the interest payments on that debt. Anyone lending money to iHeartMedia in recent years was just playing for eventual bankruptcy and betting their assets would be worth well over $20 billion, or hoping that the bonds they held could hit maturity and be repaid (refinanced, really, though with someone else’s capital) before the end game finally hit, it was clearly not a sustainable business with that much debt.

And it’s probably going to have a huge amount of debt after it comes out of bankruptcy too, frankly. I have no idea what those “Alpha Contracts” will be worth, and this is a complex case because it has so many different outstanding debts and bond issues, but some of those bonds are clearly priced as if the bondholders are going to take a pretty big haircut — “last sale” prices for those bonds range from about $850 for the bonds that mature in a year and a half to $90 for a June 15 maturity. Both of those bonds would have traded at pretty close to their maturity value of $1,000 as recently as 2015, and I don’t know the reasons for the disparity now — all bonds are slotted somewhere in the hierarchy, with more senior or higher ranking bonds getting preference in the bankruptcy settlement or in any potential liquidation, so you’ll often see similar-sounding bonds from the same issuer that trade at quite different prices, particularly if the market believes that a bankruptcy filing is a real near-term possibility (or, in this case, is already underway).

So it won’t be surprising to hear that the bonds from Clear Channel (that’s what iHeartRadio used to be called) sometimes traded at very high yields over the past couple years, often 10-20%, depending on the bond. If you think there’s a good chance that you’re not going to get your principal back at maturity, you demand a higher yield. And it’s also quite possible that someone who bought that bond a couple years ago with that 20% yield could still end up losing money on that investment when the bankruptcy process is worked out.

That’s how this is all supposed to work, if you haven’t dealt with bonds before — they have a principal amount, typically $1000 (they often quote them as if the base is $100, but they usually trade in increments of $1,000), and you are supposed to get that principal back at the end of the term, in addition to the (usually twice a year) coupon payments.

These bonds trade in the secondary market, so the coupon payment is fixed in dollar terms but the price of the bond and the premium over the principal value (or discount to principal) will fluctuate. Bonds can also become “junk” when they started out life as “investment grade” — if you had a high-caliber company with a high debt rating from Moody’s or the other ratings agencies, and it was able to borrow money by issuing bonds with a 3% coupon, and then the business falls apart a few years later, the market might push those bonds down enough in price that their coupon more closely approximates the yields offered by their new peers, other lower-rated issuers.

If you bought a $1,000 bond with a 3% coupon for, say, 10 years, then that bond would pay you $30 in income per year and, at the end, you get your $1,000 in principal returned.

If suddenly that company gets lousier, and people begin to insist on a 6% yield, then suddenly the value of that bond on the open market drops precipitously… theoretically it could drop to $500, since that’s what the price would have to be for the $30 annual interest payment to provide a 6% yield. It probably wouldn’t drop that far, since investors will also have in mind that the principal of $1,000 will be repaid at the end of the term as long as the company remains solvent… but it will drop. If there’s five years left on the bond, for example, then the price would probably drop to the $800-850 range, since the five years of interest payments plus the final bump-up in value at maturity (another $150-200 to get you your $1,000 back) would approximate a 6% annual coupon.

So the bonus appeal of “junk bonds” that are a little bit unloved is that you can get capital gains as well as high income — you get the coupon payment, which, in the case of one of the bonds I was looking at would be $112.50 per $1,000 of principal per year (that’s a very high 11.25% coupon), and that’s pretty good, and you get your $1,000 back at the end. But if you can buy that bond in the secondary market for less than the principal amount, because people perceive higher risk (of inflation, or insolvency, or whatever), and they’re demanding higher effective interest rates to deal with that risk level, you also get a boost at the end when the bond is paid back at the full principal amount.

Assuming, of course, that the company doesn’t file for bankruptcy or otherwise fail to meet its end of the contract. So that iHeartRadio 11.25% coupon bond could have been bought back in 2016 for $750, for example, and that would have given the buyer a 15% yield… with, if the company survived, an additional 30% bonus when you were paid back $1,000 in principal for your $750 investment. And it’s still trading, despite the bankruptcy, someone paid $787.50 for it recently, so apparently this particular bond is higher up on the list than the Clear Channel bond that last traded for $90.

So that was a rather long screed about what corporate bonds are and how they make money (coupon payments plus return of principal), what else do they say about the kinds of bonds they’re going to be recommending? More from the ad…

“And while so-called experts may tell you it’s impossible to get these types of yields in today’s zero-interest-rate world…

“As you’ve seen, Alpha Contracts allow you to lock in checks of…

“$1,000, $2,000 or even $10,000… with ZERO risk from the stock market!”

And he runs through some examples…

“some of the most recent Alpha Contracts I’ve seen in the markets…

+ $4,000 from Southern States Corp.
+ $3,500 from Neiman Marcus Group
+ $4,700 from Armstrong Energy
+ $2,600 from JPMorgan Chase
+ $4,400 from Exide Technologies
+ $2,520 from Hasbro
+ $3,950 from Alliance One Intl.”

And apparently we’re not being told about them because Wall Street makes too much money to share…

“Wall Street brokers make a ton of money handing out ‘Alpha Contracts’ to major institutions…

“Prompting Bloomberg to say this about instruments like ‘Alpha Contracts’:

‘…profit is one of the last vestiges of Wall Street dominance, which banks guard fiercely.'”

So yes, that’s true — the banks do make quite a bit of money on bond trading, though the reason they hold onto the traditional trading systems (phone and texting, essentially) is not necessarily that they’re trying to keep individual investors away… it’s that they’re trying to keep their piece of the trade and avoid the efficiencies that come with more open electronic trading. Individual bonds are not all that liquid, it might take you a few days to fill a position if you decide to buy one, and you might even have to call your broker… perhaps that’s part of the reason why individual investors almost never get interested in corporate bonds, as the newsletters know well (lots of publishers have launched bond-buying newsletters over the years, but they always make up wacky names for them — if they call them “bonds,” presumably nobody signs up).

Here’s a little more from the ad, to give some background;

“Alpha Contracts are quite simple.

“Think of them as an alternative way for companies to raise money.

“Although they were initially established in 1917, under the First Liberty Loan Act…

“They took their current form in the 1970s….

“With stagflation, increasing fuel costs, tight credit markets… capital was not easy
to come by.

“In response, one of Richard Nixon’s top advisors, W. Braddock Hickman, Ph.D., stumbled upon an ingenious solution called the ‘Alpha Contract'”

And more about that “low risk” nature…

“… when academics T. R. Atkinson, Ph.D., and O. K. Burrell, Ph.D., studied ‘Alpha Contracts,’ they were…

‘particularly struck by the fact that Alpha Contracts earned a high risk-adjusted rate of return.'”

That’s a quote about junk bonds from an older edition of the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics… and, indeed, if you want to get any meaningful level of income from corporate bonds just now you pretty well have to go with “junk bonds.”

Which is a bit of nasty term, I suppose, but all it means is “riskier bonds” — the bonds issued publicly by less credit-worthy companies, and which were very rare until about 30 years ago, when the Michael Milken crowd really started promoting these higher-yield bonds.

And yes, “junk bonds” have only really been widely available for 30-40 years — but that’s not because distressed debt is new, it’s because distressed companies weren’t really able to issue bonds until that market opened up back then.

It used to be that junk bonds existed just because of “fallen angels,” the companies that were creditworthy and issued bonds to raise money, but then later fell on hard times and had their credit ratings fall and saw their bonds start trading at much lower prices in the secondary market because of the risk, giving much higher yields.

The innovation of Michael Milken et al was not in trading junk bonds, it was in promoting the high yield bond market in general and helping companies with worse credit raise money by issuing junk bonds with higher coupons, which created a much larger marketplace for debt that had a little “distress” in it even when the bonds were initially offered. Over the past ten years, more than half of bond issuance has been in “speculative grade” companies, some of which are just barely below investment grade but a lot of which is from much less creditworthy companies (since 2009, according to Moody’s, 40% of bond issuance has been B1 or lower — which they define as “speculative and subject to high credit risk”).

In case you’re curious, the default rate for these bonds is high but not astronomical — at least, most of the time. Defaults wax and wane with the economy, which is why junk bonds are more economically sensitive to things like recessions than investment-grade bonds are. AAA bonds and other top-tier investment grade bonds essentially never default, the percentage is minuscule and it’s obvious that AAA companies like Johnson and Johnson are not going to go bankrupt… but the average default rate for the top tier of junk bonds has been about 4% (it varies pretty widely — close to 10% of junk bonds defaulted in 2009 or 2001, less than 1% in 2007). And for the lowest tier it can be dramatically higher, for some of the junkiest CCC stuff the default rate over long periods of time has sometimes been well over 20%. Usually defaults are preceded by downgrades from the ratings agencies, which investors rightly take as a warning sign and which tend to bring the price of the bonds down (and the effective yields up).

And, of course, the lower the rating, the less likely it is that a default will lead to a satisfactory return of your money in bankruptcy if the company liquidates or has to recapitalize… unless the sentiment is irrationally bad, companies with strong and vital assets backing up their debt don’t often fall to the lowest level credit ratings and trade at massive yields, though it does sometimes happen if the market is in turmoil or panic or the company is just small or misunderstood. Frequently in default situations, the bondholders just end up with stock in the new company that emerges from bankruptcy… in which case you might end up owning shares of a junk stock instead of your junk bonds (or take pennies on the dollar in liquidation, if the company just sells its assets and shuts down).

That’s why you need diversification as a bond investor — or great analytical acumen and wisdom, perhaps — if you’ve got bonds from 12 issuers and one of them defaults, that might mean you have a losing year but it probably wont’ be catastrophic… but if you have bonds from just two or three issuers and one of them defaults and it ends very badly, as happens rarely but not never, you might lose 30-50% of your capital and it will take a long, long time to make that up with coupon payments.

We get some more examples, too, though not anything in the way of hints about which particular bonds he might be recommending now…

“… how about the media giant Viacom…

“This multinational company owns some of the most well-known broadcasting companies around, including…

“CBS, Time Warner and Disney…

“But take a look at their stock chart and it’s pretty uninspiring.

“Despite pulling in more than $12 billion in revenue, their stock price was up just 4%.

“But take a look at what happened if you’d skipped all that and just cashed in on their
Alpha Contract…

“You could have instantly locked in an easy $2,270.”

That Viacom story shows a stock chart that runs from October 4, 2010 to February 7, 2017… I have no idea why they chose that random time period, but it’s true, the share price of Viacom only went up by about 4% over that 6-1/2 year period. We’ve all known stocks like that, I imagine, and most of us have probably owned them from time to time.

What would it have taken to “lock in” that $2,270? Well, the 6-1/2 years of coupon payments aren’t knowable for me, since I haven’t looked at their historical bond offerings, but let’s assume that those bonds in 2010 were available with a coupon of 4.5%, which is the coupon I know they were offering on a 10-year bond in 2011, so it’s probably pretty close. If you’re “locking in” $2,270 over 6.5 years, that’s just about $350 a year. So to earn $350 a year from a bond that pays a 4.5% coupon, you’d have to invest $7,777. That’s an odd number but round it off to say you’re buying eight bonds at close to principal value and there you have it, for about $8,000 you “lock in an easy $2,270” over the ensuing 6-1/2 years and end up with a total of something in the neighborhood of $10,270 when the bond matures at the end

Alternatively, you could have bought Viacom stock (VIA), which on October 4, 2010 closed at exactly $40 a share. If you held it until that day in February, 2017, you would end up with shares that are worth about $44 (that’s about 10%, not sure where Scheidt’s 4% comes from)… and you would also have collected your dividends along the way, which, if you kept them in cash, would have brought your total return to just over $50 a share if you sold everything and went home. Or, to put it another way, your $8,000 turned into $10,000 in the stock, too, though the story could easily have ended differently — you could have sold the stock near $80 at the peak in the middle of that period, or held it through thick and thin and today be sitting on a $31 stock and a frustrating long-term loss.

The bond position (sorry, “Alpha Contract”) is certainly a lot more predictable, and lots of people like that… but it’s not magical, that was almost $8,000 you put up for income of just $350 a year, remember, which sounds a lot less dramatic than those $5,000 to $30,000 “locked in income” deals per month.

And that’s really for two reasons — first, they don’t tell you how much you have to invest… and second, though they repeatedly mention these deals where you can “lock in” income every month, they don’t say how long it takes to earn that income. You could easily lock in $30,000 in income today by buying a big chunk of bonds, but that isn’t the same as saying that’s monthly income. That $30,000 could be paid out over 20 or 30 years.

Let’s leave you with a look at what they say is the last “Alpha Contract” they hint at, the recommendation they made in February. Remember that? They said “”February’s recommendation, Alpha Contract 63530QAH2, locked in $22,031.”

The number is just the CUSIP number, which is to bonds what the ticker symbol is to stocks. You can use it to look up that bond on your broker’s website, or on my favorite bond data source, the Finra site (Finra’s data on this bond is here). That’s a bond offered by theater owner National Cinemedia (NCMI), it was offered up in October of 2016 at a 5.75% coupon, and matures in August of 2026. It’s currently trading at a discount to the principal, last trade was quoted at $91.66 (which really means, $916.60 for one bond), so the effective yield would be 7.1% if you bought this bond today.

I dont’ know much specifically about the company, but it doesn’t look like it’s in disastrous shape — the market cap of NCMI is about $500 million, and they have about a billion dollars in debt outstanding (this particular bond is $250 million of that). The bond is rated as junk (B3 from Moody’s, B- from S&P), which really just means that it’s not safe enough for banks to rely on as “investment grade”, though obviously lots of institutions, including banks and insurance companies, do invest in “junk” bonds.

But how would that investment work? You could buy it at $916 now and, assuming the company remains healthy, get back $1000 in 2026… so that’s $84 right there as a nice little maturity bonus. And for each $916 bond you buy, you’d get $57.50 in annual income for the next 8-1/2 years — so that’s about $490 of income over the life of the bond, for a total of $574 of income spread out over those eight and a half years. That’s obviously not $22,031… but it could be if you bought about 40 of those bonds instead of just one bond, investing $36,640 up front.

So that’s a pretty decent return, right? You could indeed “lock in” $22,000 of income by making an investment today of $36,640… it’s just that the income will come in installments every six months of about $1,150, and then you get a little bonus at the end — instead of just getting your $36,640 back at the end, you round it up to $40,000.

That ain’t bad… it’s not magical, and you would be frustrated if you had to sell the bond back at a lower price someday before maturity for whatever reason, or if they go into bankruptcy and the company isn’t worth as much as they borrowed, and the fear of rising interest rates and rising inflation does give some qualms about committing big amounts of money for eight years… and it can be pretty tough to build a diversified portfolio of individual corporate bonds unless you’ve got at least $100,000 or so to commit to that part of your portfolio… but every portfolio needs some balance from guarantees and solidity to let you sleep at night with all those great dividend growth stocks and other investments that will, we hope, provide the inflation protection over time.

What’s that inflation risk? If inflation stays at 2.5% a year for the next decade, which the Fed would love, that would mean that the $40,000 you get back in 2026 is only worth about $33,000 in 2018 dollars… but that’s true of pretty much all fixed income investments, they provide the stability and the assured return of principal, and you get your growth and your inflation protection from somewhere else. If inflation is a lot higher than that for any length of time, well, it gets a bit uglier.

Personally, I worry about another financial crisis hitting junk bonds — both because some companies who are on the edge (and therefore pay the highest interest rates on their bonds) will have trouble refinancing their debt as interest rates rise, and because ETF trading now dominates much of the “high yield” segment of bonds, and if investors flee those junk bond ETFs all at the same time, the ETFs will have to sell lots of bonds into a market without liquidity, perhaps at fire sale prices. That, I suspect, will be the more appealing time to be a buyer of junk bonds, so perhaps now is a good time to go out and educate yourself.

Be careful what you pay for the education, though — if you’re dedicating “only” $100,000 to a corporate bond portfolio right now, then paying $2,000 for Scheidt’s newsletter (that’s the current “on sale” price) would mean you’re paying 2% of your portfolio for investment advice from someone who is not a fiduciary and not personally beholden to you (like yours truly, he’s a writer and analyst, not a personal financial advisor or portfolio manager). Thought of another way, if you get a fairly average income of 6% from that portfolio, then you’re giving up a third of the income to pay for that newsletter. That’s a lot of money — I have no idea whether or not this will end up being an effective product for those who want to pick and choose individual bonds, but it’s hard to justify it unless you’re making a substantially larger commitment than that to the junk bond part of your portfolio. Most brokers have a good education section for bond investing (Fidelity’s is here, for example, or Finra’s more basic stuff is here), so those are good places to start if you want to learn more about building a bond portfolio and are sick of listening to my blatheration.

Enough? I’m tired of writing this, and I suspect you’re tired of reading it — but yes, “Alpha Contracts” are high-yield bonds, often called junk bonds, and they do provide stability relative to stocks, and a guaranteed return of principal at maturity along with a fairly high coupon payment… with the biggest risks being the solvency of the company (you don’t want them to go bankrupt, bondholders are first in line if they do but often don’t get all their money back), and the same inflation and interest rate risks that plague all fixed-income investments. We don’t know specifically which ones Scheidt is pitching, since he didn’t hint about any current picks, but if you have any favorite bonds or have any questions or thoughts to add, please feel free to throw them on the pile by submitting your comment below. Thanks for making it this far!

Disclosure: I own shares of Disney among the companies mentioned above. I won’t trade in any investment covered for at least three days, per Stock Gumshoe’s trading rules.


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29 Comments on "What the heck are “Alpha Contracts?” Can you really “Lock in $52,000 with just 4 clicks of the mouse?”"

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backoffice
Irregular
232

Thanks Travis from wasting a bundle on what I’ll define as garbage!

ejay
Irregular
-1

sorry I could not read full story, never like bonds from morning.
takes too long, have no patients, I like to buy today sell today looking for 2,3,4,5 % I guess that’s why I am not rich yet

sct2ali
Irregular
82
Thanks, Travis, for a very! informative discussion of how bonds “work” and what role they might play in one’s portfolio. Way back when (more than 10 years ago, I would guess), I paid for a “service” run by Zach Scheidt at Agora (fortunately, the cost was only in the low hundreds). It was a complete disaster: I wrote him, as I cancelled my subscription, that I would have done better doing the ‘opposite’ of what he recommended (with options, I believe). As I recall, they even changed the name of the “service” at least once or twice, to try to… Read more »
lzaut123
Member
25

You were fortunate to be able to cancel, I was in one of his and there were NO refunds of any kind. Lucky You!

shregs of fiber
Guest
0

Where are those bonds paying > 15%? Point us to a list? The quality may be going down; I just want to look at it for awhile.

Richard VEDDER
Guest
0

Stansberry has a service that deals with these “depressed” bonds that I have subscribed to with mixed results.

dorare
Member
2

can you explain better? thank you

Gambini
Guest
0

Thanks Professor TJ; I had others things to do this am, but once I began reading I got the education so needed! Time well spent indeed.

glomerulus
Irregular
40

Whoo boy,ya gotta have some big brass ones to start monkeying around with junk bonds, or even anything BBB rated these days. As soon as the Fed ratchets up interest rates, whatever you’re holding will become virtually worthless overnight. Of course, Zack Scheidt wil have collected a bunch of subscription fees in the meanwhile…..which might be the only sure way to make a bunch of money in the investment world overnight (e.g., hype, hyperbole, and BS).

I tend to delete Zack’s emails as they come along. Good instinct on my part.

backoffice
Guest
0

Do you mean to suggest that after 3 days you’ll consider buying into alpha contracts?

George C.
Guest
0

I was a professional bond trader, specializing in corporates and short-term (maturing within 1 year) government issues. So, I hasten to remind everyone that corporate bonds are very complex instruments and can be subject to some extremely severe consequences in the event of interest payment arrears and/or bankruptcy, all or part of which may be structured much more to favor the issuer, not the investor. Caveat emptor!!

wookiee
Irregular
1

Don’t forget what Obama did to Chrysler & GM bondholders.

George C.
Guest
0

Please reiterate so that all of us can be more educated about this sector. Thanks for reponding.

Dwight Adams
Guest
0

Thanks Travis. I knew there was more than meets the eye ( or ears ) on that spiel. If they get their calculated number of “traders” they should pull in a cool $million.

lzaut123
Member
25

Thank You for this info and saving us a bundle of MONEY once again Travis!!

Tibs
Guest
0
Not to be confused, there is another Alpha service, “Alpha Shark Scanner ” from Agora Financial which started in April 2018. This one is managed by Andrew Keene , the “Alpha shark”. It’s purpose is to send option alerts almost daily with 4 profit targets and a stop loss. This enterprise started in April 2018 and charges $50/m after trial. I checked the April alerts, about a third you would have to take profits at the first profit target (~2% to 5%), another third reached 2nd to 3rd target, rest either went up fast OR you got stopped out OR… Read more »
Jesse
Guest
0

Thank you for clarifying all of Zach’s overly-inflated product push. I guess it’s like the old saying goes, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” .

joeVIpak
Guest
0

Thanks Travis, a terrific overview of bonds in general and junk in particular!
It seems ZS is pitching the idea that he has unique insight about which bonds are mispriced by the market- an obvious red flag.
I wonder if you might have an opinion about defined-maturity products, such as Invesco’s BulletShares? They seem to me like a simple alternative to seeking out individual bonds.

John
Guest
0

Thanks, Travis for another insightful review. You are awesome at digging up the ditty on companies like Agora.

mary
Guest
0

thank you SO MUCH for this thorough analysis….I get so tired of these newsletter and their tricks….

JOSEPH GRIMA
Guest
0

TO THE WRITER ABOVE , I REALLY ENJOYED YOUR TEACHING , AND YOU DIDN’T BORE ME AT ALL, LOTS OF THANKS TO YOU !!!!!!!

Margaret Bradley
Guest
0

Thanks for the insight it was very helpful. They are charging $3935.oo for the info on which companies to get Alpha Contracts on. I think I’ll pass. Thanks again.

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