Volatility has struck debt and equity markets in equal measure in 2018. Valuations continue to remain an area of concern with respect to equity markets and volatility will continue to persist until earnings match valuations. This is a global phenomenon and is not restricted to domestic equity markets. Meanwhile, investor appetite for debt has reduced.
Our core strategy team has been working on attractive investment options within the fixed income space. Our strategies are expected to outperform traditional investments like fixed deposits (one-year) by 1% to 1.5%. Hedging your portfolio through proper asset allocation will help mitigate risk. To explore your investment options please get in touch with your relationship manager.
Bond yields have remained at elevated levels for a variety of reasons. The government breaching its fiscal deficit led the market to believe that there would be an oversupply of government bonds. Markets anticipated that the government would borrow more heavily in the current year. However, its announcement to restructure the borrowing program by following a more staggered approach using instruments of varying maturities has pleasantly surprised investors.
The recent scheme recategorization has created a more transparent and investor friendly system to understanding the classification of mutual funds.
With higher uncertainty in debt and equity markets, this would be the time to review asset allocation and manage risk. There is now an opportunity to construct a layered debt portfolio. A phased transition out of ultrashort-term funds into high-quality accrual funds may be warranted.
This policy indicates that the RBI has greater visibility into inflation and growth projections and are comfortable with the current stance and policy rates. While near-term inflation is on the higher side, the central bank expects inflation pressures to stabilize in the coming financial year. Rising crude and commodity prices will continue to push inflation upwards, but a normal monsoon and controlled food supply will moderate this effect. Further, oil prices have moved both ways in the recent past, making it difficult to be certain that they will remain at elevated levels.
The reserve bank has continuously cautioned against fiscal slippages. Last year, farm loan waivers were a concern. This year, it is the government’s fiscal deficit target. Fiscal slippages increase inflation and lower creditworthiness and will have a bearing on capital flows.
Across the world, bond markets are correcting. Advanced economies are witnessing higher yields now. For instance, the yield on the 10 Year US Treasury is trading close to 3%. A weaker dollar has caused oil and commodity prices to rise, increasing domestic inflation. All these global factors have contributed to the rise in domestic yields.
Risks & Volatility
Debt as an investment avenue is regarded as a safe choice. The risks in debt markets are not immediately obvious. Yields have moved sharply this month, and volatility in debt markets continues. But, what role do risk and volatility play in debt markets?
Illiquid securities face little volatility, as there is almost no price discovery. It is difficult to enter or exit these investments and investors may have no choice but to hold them until maturity. While there is no fluctuation, there is risk.
Over the last 18 months, an unusual trend has been observed. There has been a swift and steady outflow of capital from fixed deposits into balanced funds. Fixed deposit investors have always looked towards avenues that offer fixed returns and guaranty protection of capital. Balanced funds promise neither. So, how did they become an attractive alternative to the traditional fixed deposit?
A Miracle Solution
On the contrary, equity markets enjoy zero dividend distribution tax. Additionally, long-term capital gains (LTCG) are currently exempt from tax. While debt markets hit a rough patch, equity markets have been following a one-way trajectory…upwards.
Balanced funds have been pitched as a suitable alternative to fixed deposits because they also have a debt component. Banks aggressively sold these funds to clients. This is yet another instance where banks have prioritized their revenue interests over their clients’.
Balanced funds were a miracle solution – they were offering seemingly higher returns than FDs while supposedly being safe. In addition, they are more tax efficient and were even offering to pay regular monthly dividends. Unlike interest income, these dividends are tax-free.
More importantly, regular dividend payouts are not sustainable. In mutual funds, dividends are paid from booked profits in a scheme. Essentially, the fund houses sell securities to book profits and this is handed back to investors in the form of dividends. It’s important to note that if the markets correct, the dividend will be paid from invested capital.
Balanced funds have been touted as the ideal asset allocation fund. However, since a majority of the investment is in equity instruments, it can’t work as a “one-size fits all” solution. The more prudent choice would be to work towards asset allocation across debt and equity. For regular sustainable cash flows from mutual fund investments, a prudent Systematic Withdrawal Plan would make more sense.
At ithought, we have been working towards creating fixed-income solutions for our clients that are customized to their cash flow and return expectations. If you would like to explore our offerings, please get in touch with us.
Interest Rates & Yields
2017 opened with expectations of continuing in the trajectory of falling interest rates. However, RBI took the markets by surprise by shifting the monetary policy stance from accommodative to neutral in early February. The reserve bank has reiterated and reinforced this stance ever since. The interest rate was cut only once by 0.25% during the October policy on account of persisting low inflation.
The 10-year Government Security had a roller-coaster ride this year. Yields rose sharply when the policy stance moved to neutral. On the contrary, there was barely any movement, when interest rates were lowered in October. The yield has been on a steady rise from August this year. The rise has been supported by the RBI’s OMO operations, neutral policy, and rising interest rates in the United States.
Demonetization & Inflation
Inflation appears to be the lynchpin. Monetary policy actions hinge on the movement of inflation rates. The CPI index reached a concerning low of 1.54% in June this year. Over the past few months, inflation has climbed due to rising food and fuel prices, geopolitics, and increasing global liquidity.
US Bond Markets
A rate hike is more probable than a rate cut in the current scenario. Keeping this along with neutral policy in mind, it is important to maintain quality in the investment portfolio. As the fixed income space has a return ceiling, it is important to align to high-quality accrual funds that can ride through volatility and protect the portfolio from downsides.
The Indian Banking system has been trying to resolve its crisis of bad loans. In particular, public sector banks (PSB) have been struggling with their NPAs (non-performing assets).
There have been ongoing efforts since 2015 to address this issue. The RBI mandated Asset Quality Reviews (AQRs) that brought more transparency in determining the quality of loans. Following this, banks were expected to create provisions for their bad loans. Additionally, amendments to the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and the intervention of the NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal) has sped up the loan recovery process.
However, banks remain stressed and have been unable to boost their interest inflows and grow. A healthy banking system is necessary for a healthy economy.
A Vicious Cycle
The Way Forward
Now, banks must become responsible with their capital allocation. The recapitalization bonds will have to be earned. The capital infusion will enhance the balance sheets and spur growth. Simultaneously capital allocation will improve by giving banks liquidity to lend without having to compromise on the quality of borrowers. The economy as a whole will benefit from government spending through these PSBs. The fittest banks will survive. We may even see consolidation and mergers in the PSB space, resulting in healthy, stable, large, public sector banks.
What are Infrastructure Bonds?
The government of India awards infrastructure status to certain projects that are of national importance. Infrastructure projects are usually undertaken by PSU entities such as IDFC, PFC, etc. with L & T being the exception. Capital for these projects is raised through infra bonds. The minimum investment ticket is Rs. 5,000 and there is no upper limit.What are their features?
Like all bonds, these bonds have credit ratings. As the government vets these bonds, they typically have the highest credit rating. The issues may or may not be secured (i.e. backed by assets).
Investments in infrastructure bonds can be used to claim deductions under Section 80 C. The interest earned on the bonds is taxable.
Infra bonds are long-term bonds where the tenor is 10 to 15 years. The bonds are callable after the lock-in period. This means that the issuer can recall or buy back the bonds once the lock-in period is over.
Infra bonds are locked in for five or seven years depending on the tenor (ten or fifteen years). However, they are exchange-traded and can be sold after the lock-in period. It might still prove difficult to liquidate the bonds as there is low market participation.
Who are they meant for?
Infra bonds are meant for investors looking to park their money in a secure avenue. Currently, there are no new issues. Returns are close to those of government securities with similar maturities. Since there are other instruments offering higher return under Section 80 C, it may not make sense to invest in infrastructure bonds solely for the tax benefit.
happy new year animations 2018