Say what you will about variable annuities; they returned about 6% or more for investors in 2008 when others saw 40% or more of their holdings wiped out, The Wall Street Journal reports. In fact, they were one of the best investments of the past decade, due to their minimum guarantees.

All during the bull market of the 1990s, critics assailed insurers for selling variable annuities with additional guaranteed riders. However, these guaranteed minimum variable annuities appeared to be brilliant investments in last year’s massacre.

Some of these funds pay guaranteed lifetime income based on past market gains, even in years when the market does poorly.

As one 67-year-old investor whose variable annuity still paid out last year said, “When I watch friends bemoaning the market and experiencing real pain, I feel guilty saying anything. I know that I’m doing quite well.”

For Thomas Hamlin, a broker with Raymond James Financial, the investments make sense because “people are sick of sliding back down to the base camp after they felt like they were about to put their flag in the top of the mountain. It’s better than the alternative: mutual funds with no downside protection.”

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