Market Index Target-Term Securities (MITTS)

What Are Market Index Target-Term Securities (MITTS)?

The market index target-term security is a type of principal-protected note designed to provide equity exposure while protecting the initial investment. It was initially engineered by Merrill Lynch and was designed to limit the amount of downside risk an investor is exposed to, while also providing a return that is proportional to that of a specified stock market index. Market index target-term securities typically do not afford their owner the right to redeem the security before maturity, nor do they usually afford the right to call the issue in early.

Key Takeaways

  • Market index target term securities (MITTS), or equity-linked notes, are bonds connected to an index or series of stocks.
  • These securities were initially created by Merrill Lynch for investors who were looking for exposure to equities paired with the protection of their initial investment.
  • Even if the stock or index the MITTS were paired with was to tank during a specified period, the investor would still hold on to a certain minimum amount of capital. 
  • While MITTS can provide some security for risk-averse investors, on the downside, they are still taxed—whether the underlying index they pair with rises or falls.
  • Additionally, holders of MITTS don't have the flexibility of being able to sell the market index target-term securities ahead of the maturity date.

Understanding Market Index Target-Term Securities (MITTS)

The purpose of a market index target-term security is to provide equity exposure to an investor's portfolio while still providing a guarantee that, even if the stock market performs poorly during a specified investment horizon, they will still be left with a specified minimum amount of capital. Though market index target-term securities invest in equity markets, they are considered debt instruments.

MITTS Examples

For example, assume an investor could purchase market index target-term security units today at a price of $10 per unit. The market index target-term securities mature in exactly one year, at which time they require the return of the $10 principal value to the investor, plus a proportional return based on the performance of the selected index, such as the S&P 500, during that time period.

So, if the S&P 500 crashes during the year, the investor still receives the $10 per unit back. However, if the S&P 500 does well during the year, the investor will receive the $10 per unit back, plus an extra amount per unit that is calculated based on the S&P 500's return. A percentage of any earnings gained by the market index target-term security is generally claimed by the issuer of the security, along with standard fees.

In this 2019 offering from Bank of America, market index target-term securities were offered at a price of $10 per unit, linked to the S&P 500, with a maturity of roughly six years. The securities were subject to a maximum return of 50% to 70% at the maturity date. If the S&P 500 index was flat or had declined at the time of the maturity date, the holder would still be guaranteed a return of the principal amount.

Drawbacks of MITTS

Despite the loss constraints and reasonable lifespan to maturity, market index target-term securities have several disadvantages investors must be aware of. First, they are taxed regardless of whether the underlying index experiences gains or losses. Second, holders are strictly prohibited from selling market index target-term securities prior to the maturity date. In addition, investors who purchase these securities are trading potential upside for downside protection. While the principal is protected, the investor will only realize a portion of any potential gains.

Article Sources

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  1. Bank of America. "Market Index Target-Term Securities® Linked to the S&P 500® Index." Accessed July 15, 2021.