Greetings from PenguWIN,
I wanted to pen a short and simple write-up on Debt funds. The objective is that the investors should have a basic understanding of what a debt fund is and how it works.
Debt funds are categorized based on the maturity profile of the instruments/securities/papers (used interchangeably) that they hold. In simple terms you can think of 60 days FD (Fixed Deposit), 91 days FD, 1-year FD and so on. If money is required in about 3 months, it is invested in a 91 days FD and if it is required in 13 months, it is invested in 1 Year FD. Similarly, depending on the tenure, investments in debt funds start from Overnight funds (few days), Liquid funds (weeks to a few months), Ultra-Short Duration funds (more than 3 months), going up to Long term, and Gilt funds.
Debt funds comprise of instruments of multiple attributes – interest rate, company, rating, and tenure. Instruments over 1 year are long-term and rated as “AAA”, “AA+”, “AA” and so on. Instruments less than a year are rated as “A1+”, “A1” and so on (Crisil’s Rating Scale). Government issues long-term securities, referred to as GSECS and short-term securities, less than a year maturity, referred to as Treasury bills. GSECS and T-bills are also instruments (sovereign and backed by Government of India) that debt mutual funds invest in.
The difference between a Bank FD and a Debt fund is that FDs are linear products (no volatility). But, if an investment is made in a 1-year FD for 6% and broken in 6 months, the interest rate will probably be around 4%, which is the rate for 6 months and there could be an additional penalty too. However, if an investment is made in a short-term debt fund, say Ultra-Short-term fund for 1 year which is expected to provide a return of 6%, typically, it will stabilize in a month (even less in many cases) and even if an investor exits in say, 2 months, the return will be about 6% (on an annualized basis). The returns will not be linear but close to linear (say, 5.5% in week 1, 6.2% in week 2, 5.8% in week 3, and so on) which provides a huge advantage of investing short-term money that might be required anytime. If an investor remains invested for 3 years, tax benefits through indexation kick in, which is very significant, and FDs do not get this benefit. Debt Funds do not have tax deduction at source (TDS) which means there will not be annual taxes to be paid. It needs to be paid only when the fund is redeemed. FDs have TDS which means compounding effect will be reduced.
Unlike FDs, fund managers trade securities in their schemes, purchase when money comes into the fund (investments), and sell (redeem) when money is required by investors. The volatility of returns from Debt funds is considerably low but not “Zero‘ and that’s why debt fund returns are close to linear but not perfectly linear. So, debt funds NAV (Total value of fund/ Number of outstanding units) increases slowly. Only during extreme situations, there would be wide swings in the NAV as a result of changes in the ^yields of underlying instruments.
Typically, if a scheme/fund has invested in a proportionately high number of “AAA” papers, “A1+”, GSECs, the risk level is lower and so will be the returns (AAA yield will be lesser than AA, AA less than A+ and so on). To increase the fund returns, fund managers invest in less than AAA, say “AA-“ type of instruments. If a fund has 50 instruments, 10 maybe AAA, 15 in A1+ and rest in AA and AA-. Also, securities that are AA need not be of low quality. Ex. Airtel’s 8.25% Non-Convertible Debentures (NCD) is rated “AA” and knowing the pedigree of the company why would anyone hesitate to invest? If the question is, then why is it not rated “AAA”, it is beyond the scope of this write-up and requires an explanation of the credit rating process.
Daily, depending on the transactions done, the instrument gets a value like AAA, 3 years is 6.75, 5 years is 7.2, and so on. The price of the security goes up and down as it gets traded, based on demand and supply. Since the interest rate is constant like 8.25% in the case of Airtel NCD, it’s the yield that varies periodically.
^Yield is the return that you would get for the current price of the security. If Airtel 8.25% NCD has a lot of demand, then the price of 1 unit of the bond, say 1000 Rs. will increase to 1100 but the interest rate remains the same 8.25%. In this case, the yield would be 8.25% of 1100 or 7.5% i.e. Yield decreases as price increases and increases as price decreases (inversely proportional). Yield is the reference and key parameter for a security/instrument like the current market price of a share (Reliance Industries stock price is Rs. 1400/- (current trading price) and the face value of Rs. 10/- loses its significance.
When there is liquidity squeeze in the market i.e. demand for instruments by buyers goes down than supply or sellers trying to sell too many instruments, the price of the instrument/bond goes down and the yield shoots up. In such a scenario when a fund manager tries to sell lesser quality papers (AA, A+) the takers will be lesser resulting in a distress sale. If the value of a bond (Rs. 1000 face value) goes down to say 800, then the Net Asset Value (NAV) goes down sharply and this is what happened to the 6 Franklin Debt Funds which were in the news, recently. There could be a situation where there are no takers at all and price discovery itself becomes a challenge. If a distress sale happens then there will be a huge erosion of NAV, severely affecting the interests of investors. The underlying instruments (say even “AA”) can still be good and companies might pay back the loan in time. The current crisis is more of a demand-supply mismatch rather than the credit quality of the instruments. All other factors remaining the same, the quality of papers like AAA Vs AA might matter. But, Franklin has been managing the funds in this fashion for over a decade without any issues, investing in lower credit quality instruments, and providing substantial additional returns to its investors.
Leave no stone unturned to help your clients realize maximum profits from their investment - Arthur C. Nielsen
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