Diversification – A lesson from Cricket

Indians treat Cricket not just a game but we eat, sleep and breathe cricket.  Cricketers are as popular as a movie star and every victory in the field is a festival for the masses. Since cricket is so much entrenched in our psyche that we think there is no better way but Cricket to explain the benefit of diversification in your investment portfolio. The cricket is the most watched sports in India and every other Indian claim to be the bona fide expert of the game. Even the youngster will tell, “I know my cricket as my mamma knows her household.”

But for few tyro, Wikipedia explain the game as – Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players on a cricket field, at the centre of which is a rectangular 22-yard-long pitch with a wicket (a set of three wooden stumps) at each end. One team bats, attempting to score as many runs as possible, whilst their opponents field. Each phase of play is called an innings. After either ten batsmen have been dismissed or a fixed number of overs have been completed, the innings ends and the two teams then swap roles. The winning team is the one that scores the most runs, including any extras gained, during their innings.

So what are the basics, there are eleven players on the field for each team during a match and every member of the team has an assigned role to play. The top order players are the batsman, the middle order consists of wicket keeper and all-rounders and lower order players are bowlers. The team has to score runs and restrict the opposition team to score as many runs as they have scored to win the match. The players who score runs are called batsman and the players who restrict the opposition team to score are called bowlers. Hence the reward is to score as many as runs you can and risk is the rival team can score more run than what you have scored.

If scoring the runs is the most important aspect of the game then why we can’t have a team with eleven specialist batsmen to maximize the rewards or eleven specialist bowlers to minimize the risk? If you ask this question even to somebody who wasn’t a big cricket fan, they could probably tell you that everyone has a job to do during any given match. If you don’t have a bowler in your team, your risk will magnify and it would be difficult for your team to restrict opponent to score more run than your team. Similarly, the team consisting of only bowlers can’t expect to score many runs and thus lose out to the opposition. This exactly explains the reason for having a diversified portfolio – as in cricket, every asset class has a specific job to do within the portfolio.

So if you are an investor trying to build a portfolio, let see what Cricket can teach you.

Go for Diversification

Holding several investments in a single asset class doesn’t mean a portfolio is well-diversified. Generally, diversification may lower risk when investments are negatively correlated, meaning their prices typically move in opposite directions. Your portfolio should be diverse enough to weather all sorts of markets – a mix of aggressive and defensive assets, such as stocks and bonds, may reduce the general risk of investing in the market. Dividend-paying blue chip stocks or mutual funds could be the core of your portfolio, while smaller growth stocks can give your portfolio speed and agility.

Diversification doesn’t mean sacrificing return

A well-balanced cricket team with six specialist batsmen and five specialist bowlers will have greater chance to win. A good all-rounder only adds the strength. Similarly, diversification may boost returns while lowering risk when compared to a single asset class. It’s possible at times that a portfolio holding separate asset classes produces a total return greater than the respective returns of each individual asset class. Since the portfolio is not subject to the volatility of a single asset class and covariance among the assets also lower the portfolio risk.

Build a core for Long Term Success

A team works best when they are built for a long period of steady success rather than a single, brilliant season. The best teams build a talented core group of players and only make changes when they need to address weaknesses in the team. M S Dhoni and Saurav Ganguly was the most successful captain of the Indian cricket team and both back their players to the hilt and gradually built a core which remains constant throughout their captaincy.

It’s the same in your portfolio. Rather than constantly rebalancing your portfolio and guessing the next winner, find some mutual funds that you like and plan to hold them for long time period. You should not obsess over whether your portfolio is up or down on a given day. Plan for the long-term; it’s better to have your portfolio perform above average over years than to have a few big years but performing sub-optimally in most of the other years.

Identify and stick with steady Manager

In the first decade of this century, we have two very successful coaches – John Wright and Gary Kirsten. In between, we also have Greg Chappell. The records of these coaches speak for themselves. Rather than firing the players after disappointing performances, the successful coaches kept faith in their long-term ability to win and stuck with them, even in the bad times. Whereas, Greg Chappell’s firing policy proves a disaster for Indian cricket team.

An investor should do well to analyse the performance of the fund house instead concentrating on a single scheme. One should not quit a fund if it is going through a rough patch. A steady, successful fund management team always pull out of rubbles and steer the fund back to its winning way by adhering to winning strategies, putting up good numbers in the long run. The track record matters and investing in a hotshot new manager with no track record can be risky.

Conclusion

The great team doesn’t build in a jiffy; it takes years and load of patience. Even the best team loses sometime hence one should not lose sleep if your portfolio gives negative returns when market capsizes. We all are well aware of the history of US stock market crash of 1929. Some investors must have first-hand experiences during market meltdown in 1999 and 2008. The reality is that some market crashes are so sudden that even the most diversified portfolios suffer. Risk can only be minimised, can’t be wished away. However, portfolio diversification may stabilise risk to help lower a portfolio’s sensitivity to market volatility.

 

 

Yield Curve Primer

A yield curve is a graphical representation of the current interest rates. The interest rate varies across the maturity.  The yield curve shows the rate of return that can be locked in now for various terms into the future. The left, vertical Y-axis of the graph shows the YTM that is currently available in the marketplace. The bottom, horizontal X-axis shows the G-Sec maturity. The yield curve is the line connecting YTM across maturities and looks something like this:

YTM000

A yield curve can be created for any specific segment of the bond market, from AAA-rated corporate bonds to single-B rated corporate bonds. The G-sec yield curve is the most widely used because G-Sec has no perceived credit risk, which would influence yield levels, and G-sec and T-bill market includes securities of every maturity, from 3 months to 40 years.

As the investor in the Bond, we all know that Yield to maturity reflects the total return an investor receives by holding the bond until it matures. But why the yield curve is important and does it has a predictable power?

The information contains in the yield curve is valuable for the prediction of business cycles, inflation, and monetary policy; the response of the yield curve helps to understand the extent of transmission of monetary policy and, it is also the barometer to measure the impact of any surprises on the macro economy. The importance of Yield curve can also be gauged by the fact that it represents the relationship among short, medium and long-term yield and most of the pricing activity taking place in the bond markets centres around it. The Yield curve is also called Term Structure of Interest Rates. To understand the shape of the yield curve, we must understand the variables of yield curve – level, slope, and curvature.

Level = Average yield of Short Term (3mnths), Medium Term (2years) and Long Term (10years).

Slope = Spread = Difference in the yield of Short Term (3mnths) and Long Term (10years).

Curvature = [2 x Long Term yield (10years) – Short Term yield (3mnths) – Medium Term yield (2years)].

And examine the theories and hypotheses that explain the yield curve and the relationship of short, medium and long-term interest rates:

  • Pure expectations: long-term rate is the sum of current rate and future expected short-term rates, adjusted for risk.
  • Liquidity premium: long-term rate is the sum of current rate and future expected short-term rates, adjusted for risk, plus a premium for holding long-term bonds, called the term premium or the liquidity premium.
  • Preferred habitat: In addition to pure expectations and liquidity premiums, investors have distinct investment horizons and require a meaningful premium to buy bonds with maturities outside their “preferred” maturity, or habitat.
  • Market Segmentation: postulates that the yield curve is determined by supply and demand for debt instruments of different maturities.

The Yield curve has five major characteristics:

  • The change in yields of different term bonds tends to move in the same direction.
  • The yields on short-term bonds are more volatile than long-term bonds.
  • The Long-term yields follow the short-term yields.
  • The yields on long-term bonds tend to be higher than short-term bonds.
  • At a given level, yields are mean reverting.

The pure expectations hypothesis explains the first three characteristics; the liquidity premium theory explains the fourth characteristic and the market segmentation explains the last one.

The Shape of the Yield Curve

There is a dynamic relationship between fiscal and monetary developments – government debt and the budget deficit, real output, inflation and the monetary policy rate– and the shape of the yield curves.

Normal Curve

A normal, upward-sloping yield curve suggests the economy will grow in the future, and this may lead to higher inflation and higher interest rates. No one will buy longer-term securities without a higher interest rate than those offered by shorter-term securities. A normal yield reflects the easing of monetary policy and easy liquidity. And the economy expected to expand. The upward sloping normal yield curve is the most common shape of the yield curve.

YTM002

Inverted Curve

When the long-term yields fall below short-term yields, the yield curve becomes inverted. An inverted yield curve indicates the economy is to slow or decline in the future and this slower growth may lead to lower inflation and lower interest rates across all maturities. An inverted yield curve typically indicates that central banks are ‘tightening’ monetary policy, limiting the supply of money in the banking system and thus control credit availability. An inverted yield curve has indicated, in the past, the slowing down of economic growth and even recession.

YTM001

Flat Curve

When the short-term bond yields increases and yields on long-term bonds decrease, the yield curve flattens or appears less steep. A flattening yield curve can indicate that expectations for future inflation are falling and thus the demand higher long-term bonds fall. Since inflation is less of a concern, the long-term premium shrinks. A flat yield curve indicates a slower economic growth.

YTM004

Humped Curve

A humped yield curve is a kind of flat yield curve or reflects uncertainty about specific economic policies or conditions, or it may reflect a transition of the yield curve from a normal to inverted or vice versa.

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Deciphering Bond – 2

In a country like ours, the bank fixed deposits and government sponsored products like Tax-free bonds, PPF and Post office schemes created an illusion that Debt is risk-free. This is a bit surprising because there were numerous defaults in NBFC FDs, Company deposits, RNBC deposits and chit funds in last two-to-three decades but every such default only strengthens the views that the government sponsored product are high in security and returns and what’s the need to invest in other debt products.

There is another counter view which is gradually catching the imagination of investor is Debt mutual fund. The AUM (Asset under management) of Debt schemes in the Mutual fund industry stands at over Rupees Ten lakh crore as on September 30, 2016. Often there is a great deal of discernment about an investment avenue that brings clueless investors down the wrong path. Investors also have such beliefs for Debt funds that could be partly true at best and misleading at worst. Here we will try to decipher risk associated with investment in Debt, which is equally true for debt mutual funds.

No market-related investment is risk-free, be it equity or debt. While debt funds are not as risky as equity funds, they are not without risks either.

The two prime risks in a debt instrument are the interest rate risk and credit risk.

Interest Rate Risk

Interest rates and bond prices carry an inverse relationship; as interest rates fall, the price of bonds generally rises. Conversely, when interest rates rise, the price of bonds tends to fall.

Let’s assume you purchase a bond from Company ABC. Because bond prices typically fall when interest rates rise, an unexpected increase in interest rates means that your investment could suddenly lose value. If you expect to sell the bond before it matures, this could mean you end up selling the bond for less than you paid for it (a capital loss). Of course, the magnitude of change in the bond price is also affected by the maturity, coupon rate, call option, and other characteristics of the bond.

One common way to measure a bond’s interest rate risk is to calculate its duration.

In general, short-term bonds carry less interest rate risk; less responsive to unexpected interest rate changes than long-term bonds are. This implies that short-term bonds carry less interest rate risk than long-term bonds.

Credit/Default Risk

Credit risk is the likelihood that a bond issuer will not make the interest payments or principal repayment to its bond-holders. It means the issuer may default. All bonds, except for those issued by the government, carry some credit risk. This is one reason why corporate bonds almost always have a higher yield than government bonds.

While the definition of credit risk may be straight forward simple, measuring it is not.  Many factors, like a business loss, poor cash flows, change in business environment, country’s socio-political situation etc can influence an issuer’s credit risk and in varying degrees.

Rating agencies like CRISIL, ICRA, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s analyse bond offerings in an effort to measure an issuer’s credit risk on a particular security. Their results are published as ratings that investors can track and compare with other issuers.

These ratings range from AAA (the most secure) to D, which means the issuer is already in default.

Rating downgrades generally come from rating agencies. A downgrade from any one of them is a major signal that an issuer is more likely to default on its debt. If a bond is downgraded to a level below investment grade (aka, “junk”), there is often a serious sell off of those bonds, because most institutional investors are forbidden from owning junk bonds.

Ratings have a large influence on the demand for a security. Downgrades (or even rumours of downgrades) tell investors that a security is now believed to be riskier, which may have a negative impact on the security’s price. In turn, downgrades often lead to less trading activity and lowered liquidity.

Other Risks

a) Reinvestment Risk

Reinvestment Risk is the likelihood that an investor won’t have the opportunities to reinvest income streams from the Bond at a rate equivalent to the Bond’s present rate of return

For example, consider a Company ABC bond with a 10% yield to maturity (YTM). In order for an investor to actually receive the expected yield to maturity, she must reinvest the interest payments she receives at a 10% rate. This is not always possible. If the investor could only reinvest at 8% (say, because market yield fell after the bonds were issued), the investor’s actual return on the bond investment would be lower than expected. This risk becomes more pronounced if issuer has the call option to retire the bond before the maturity.

b) Inflation Risk

Inflation risk also called purchasing power risk, is the likelihood that the returns from the Bond won’t be worth as much in the future on account of changes in purchasing power because of inflation.

For example, Rs.1,00,000 in bonds with a 10% coupon might generate enough interest payments for a retiree to live on, but with an annual 5% inflation rate, every Rs.10,000 produced by the portfolio will only be worth Rs.9,523 next year and about Rs.9,070 the year after that. The rising inflation means that the interest payments have less and less purchasing power. And the principal, when it is repaid after several years, will buy substantially less than it did when the investor first purchased the bonds.

Inflation-indexed bonds were designed to provide a hedge against rising prices or inflation. They attempt to address this risk by adjusting their interest rate for inflation to prevent changes in purchasing power.

c) Liquidity Risk

Liquidity risk is concerned with an investor having to sell a bond below its indicated value, the indication having come from a recent transaction. Liquidity refers to how deep or liquid the market is for a particular security. If the market is deep, an investor can purchase or sell a security at current prices.

The risk that investors may experience issues finding a purchaser when they need to sell and might be compelled to sell at a significant rebate to market value. Liquidity risk is greater for thinly traded securities such as lower-rated bonds, bonds that were part of a small issue, bonds that have recently had their credit rating downgraded or bonds sold by an infrequent issuer. Bonds are generally the most liquid during the period right after issuance when the typical bond has the highest trading volume.

Deciphering Bond

In the annals of Investment folklore there is an old saying, if you want to make the most money, you should invest in stocks. But if you want to keep the money you made in stocks, you should invest in bonds.

We always consider Bonds as the most important asset class though it also has the lowest expected rate of return. Bonds are largely regarded as being lower-risk investments than shares, which is why they’re so popular with big institutions such as Banks, Provident Funds, Insurance and pension funds.

Bonds are important as they are a better indicator of wider macro signals and risk measures, rather than shares. Bonds and especially government securities tend to react very quickly to the macroeconomic signals and risk measures. Equity markets try to remain ahead of any earning and the economy uptrend; that is, they’re probably about six months ahead of any data indicating an economic recovery. Equities, in particular, can be very volatile and sometimes share prices are moved by factors that have nothing to do with interest, inflation or GDP growth rates, or economic/business cycles.

Basic Things to Know About Bonds

A bond is a type of investment that represents a loan between a borrower and a lender. With bonds, the issuer promises to make regular interest payments to the investor at a specified rate (the coupon rate) on the amount it has borrowed (the principal amount) until a specified date (the maturity date). Once the bond matures, the interest payments stop and the issuer is required to repay the face value of the principal to the investor.

Because the interest payments are made generally at set periods of time and are fairly predictable, bonds are often called fixed-income securities.

Maturity

The maturity date of a bond is the date when the principal or par amount of the bond will be paid to investors, and the company’s bond obligation will end.

Bonds often are referred to as being short-, medium- or long-term. Generally, a bond that matures in one to three years is referred to as a short-term bond. Medium or intermediate-term bonds generally are those that mature in four to 10 years, and long-term bonds are those with maturities greater than 10 years.

 Not all bonds reach maturity, even if you want them to. Callable bonds are common: They allow the issuer to retire a bond before it matures. Call provisions are outlined at the time of issuance of the bond itself.

Coupon

A bond’s coupon is the annual interest rate paid to the bondholder, generally paid out annually or semi-annually on individual bonds. The coupon is always tied to a bond’s face or par value and is quoted as a percentage of par values. It is also referred to as the coupon rate, coupon percent rate and nominal yield.

Bonds that don’t make regular interest payments are called zero-coupon bonds. As the name suggests, these are bonds that pay no coupon or interest. Instead of getting an interest payment, you buy the bond at a discount from the face value of the bond, and you are paid the face amount when the bond matures.

Yield to Maturity (YTM)

Yield to maturity (YTM) is the most commonly used yield measurement. The yield to maturity (YTM) is a very meaningful calculation that tells you the total return you will receive by holding the bond until it matures. YTM equals all the interest payments you will receive (assuming you reinvest these interest payments at the same rate as the current yield on the bond), plus any gain (if you purchased the bond at a discount) or loss (if you purchased the bond at a premium) on the price of the bond. YTM is useful because it enables you to compare bonds with different maturity dates and coupon rates.

Coupon vs YTM

Fluctuations in interest rates usually have the biggest impact on the price of bonds – interest rates can be affected by many things, including a change in inflation rates. Generally speaking, bond prices move inversely to interest rates because the coupon rate usually remains constant through to maturity. If current interest rates are higher than the coupon rate, the bond is less attractive to investors and drops in value, since investors aren’t willing to pay as much for a series of lower coupon payments. Bond prices increase when the coupon rate is higher than current interest rate levels. To an investor who holds bonds through to maturity, price fluctuations may seem irrelevant.

Let us assume that a bond has a face value of Rs 100 with an 8% coupon rate. A coupon rate or nominal yield indicates that if you hold a bond from issuance to maturity, you are expected to receive the amount equal to the coupon rate every year and par value at maturity. This means that the investor will earn Rs 8 per annum on each bond he invests in.

Scenario1: Interest rates rise to 10%. Even so, the investor will continue to earn Rs 8 that is fixed and will not change. So to increase the yield to 10%, which is the current market rate of interest, the price of the bond will have to drop to Rs 80.

Scenario2: Interest rates fall to 6%. Again, the investor will continue to earn Rs 8. This time the price of the bond will have to go up to Rs 133.

Duration

The maturity of the bond matters. The greater the maturity – the longer the life of the bond – the stronger the effect with regards to gains and losses is of interest rates in the economy.

To estimate how sensitive a particular bond’s price is to interest rate movements, the bond market uses a measure known as duration.

Duration is a weighted average of the present value of a bond’s cash flows, which include a series of regular coupon payments followed by a much larger payment at the end when the bond matures and the face value is repaid.

If you know how to calculate the present value of the future cash flows, you will very well calculate the duration of the bonds. As an investor, it is good to know the calculation but it is better to understand the relationship among price, yield and modified duration of a bond.

            ΔP = – MD * ΔY

where,

Modified duration = Duration / (1 + yield)

P = Price

Y = yield

Let’s assume that modified duration of the bond is 3 years. So if the yield fell by 0.5%, the price would go up by 3 x 0.5% = 1.5%. If the yield rose by 0.5%, the price would fall by 1.5%.

Modified duration is a standard risk measure in bond fund management but it is important to remember that it is used only for small movements in yield.

Conclusion

Many people including legendary investor Warren Buffett has argued that bonds fail to protect investors’ purchasing power. When taxes and inflation are subtracted from bond returns, investors fail to gain wealth.

This is true if you hold your entire portfolio in cash or bonds, you run the risk of losing out to inflation. This is particularly a threat in the low-interest-rate environment. We don’t think bonds should be shunned. When held to maturity, bonds provide a consistent return of capital. Bonds also have low long-term correlations with stocks, making them a good diversifier. Bonds and shares are two important component of asset allocation and you can’t wish away any of them.