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Investing in Debt Funds
Depend on debt funds to enhance the overall value of your portfolio
When it comes to investing in mutual funds in India, retail investors typically tend to think of equity mutual funds. Little do they know that debt funds too offer several advantages and can help augment one’s portfolio. Here is all you need to know about debt funds and investing in them.
What are Debt Funds?
Debt mutual funds are funds that invest in instruments such as government securities, commercial paper (CP), certificate of deposits (CD), money market instruments and other such debt instruments. They are called “debt” because the issuers of such instruments borrow money from lenders against these instruments. These instruments come with different maturities and can generate income periodically or at maturity.
Since most debt instruments are not available for direct purchase by retail investors (because the minimum amount required to invest is pretty high), debt mutual funds are the ideal way to invest in them. Debt funds usually provide the benefit of capital appreciation when interest rates fall. There are various kinds of debt funds that can feature in an investor’s portfolio depending upon his/her investment goals and risk appetite. Here are the most popular ones.
Types of debt funds
  • Gilt FundsGovernment securities are called gilts. A gilt fund therefore invests in Government securities of various tenures. Since the issuer of such instruments is the Government, these funds have no risk of default. However they are not free from interest rate risk.
  • Income FundsThese are the kind of funds that invest in a variety of debt instruments across various maturity profiles ranging from short-term (1-2 years) paper as well as long-term (15-20 years) paper. The objective of such funds is to take advantage of interest rate movements.
  • Short-term FundsThese invest in debt instruments such as CDs, bonds and CPs with a maturity of 3-12 months. These funds are not impacted by interest rate volatility and provide slightly higher returns than liquid funds.
  • Liquid FundsThese funds invest in highly liquid money market instruments and treasury bills, CDs and CPs among others. Often used as an alternative to a savings account they can be used to park one’s surplus cash for good returns. Liquid funds are considered the most stable among debt funds as far as returns are concerned.
  • Fixed Maturity Plans (FMPs)FMPs are close-ended debt funds that have a fixed tenure and must be held till maturity. They invest in debt instruments that have maturity dates that are less than or equal to the maturity date as stipulated by the scheme. The units of these funds though not redeemable before maturity date, are traded on the stock exchange to provide the element of liquidity to investors.
There are other lesser known categories of debt funds that can meet specific goals of investors. These are:
  • Floating Rate Funds (FRFs)- Variants of income funds that minimize the volatility risk.
  • Monthly Income Plans (MIPs)- Debt oriented hybrid funds that invest a part of the corpus of such funds in equities with the objective of generating regular income and long-term capital appreciation.
  • Capital Protection Funds (CPFs)- Close-ended funds where allocation of funds is done in such a way as to keep the value of the investment equal to the original investment amount, thereby protecting the capital of the investor. A portion of the corpus of such funds is also invested in equities to enhance the returns of these funds after maturity.
Benefits of investing in debt funds
Diversification - Investing a certain portion of your assets in debt funds shields your portfolio from the volatility of equity investments.
Managing risks - Investing in debt funds reduces the risk of losses as these funds are less volatile as compared to equities.
Opportunity to invest in debt instruments - Debt mutual funds provide retail investors the opportunity to invest in various debt instruments such as Government securities, bonds, Non Convertible Debentures (NCDs), etc. that retail investors otherwise cannot participate in because of higher investment limits.
Regular income - Debt mutual funds help in generating regular income by way of dividend distribution. Depending upon the type of debt fund, these dividends can be daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, semi-annually or annually.
Advantage of interest rates - If an investor selects the right type of fund matching his risk appetite and investment time horizon, he may be able to generate income in line with the prevailing rates of interest.
Opportunity to park short-term surplus - Unlike equity mutual funds that prove to be very volatile in the short-term, some debt funds provide the opportunity to retail investors to park their surplus for a short while and earn decent returns on it.
How to evaluate debt funds
Debt funds can provide benefits for investors if they fit in with their overall investment objectives. To assess whether these funds fit into your investment objectives you need to evaluate them properly. You can evaluate debt funds on the basis of the following parameters:
Portfolio - These give the list of instruments that the fund has invested in, thus giving an insight into its investment strategy.
Maturity profile - Can be used to understand the composition of the portfolio.
Yield to maturity - This is a measure of interest income that can be earned from the portfolio. This should be compared to the current returns of your other safer instruments.
Credit rating - The quality of credit can be seen to understand how vulnerable the fund can be to credit risk. The lower the rating, the more the risk of a default.
Average portfolio maturity - Gives the indication of the length of time in which the principal amount of the bond will be repaid.
Duration of portfolio - Can be examined to see the price sensitivity of the portfolio in a changing interest rate scenario. This can give an indication of how volatile the fund can be to interest rate risk.
Average maturity and duration - A portfolio of bonds consists of a number of instruments with different maturities. Average maturity is the weighted average of the time left up to maturity. A fund that has a higher maturity and duration can be expected to perform well in a scenario where interest rates are falling and vice versa. Bond prices and interest rates are inversely related; the longer the tenure of the bond the more sensitive it is to changes in interest rates.
Things to keep in mind when investing in debt funds
Now that you know how to evaluate debt funds, you must know how to choose debt funds that are right for you. Here are the factors that you should keep in mind:
Your current asset allocation and risk tolerance
Firstly, you must carefully consider your overall asset allocation in the context of your investment objectives. Depending upon your investment horizon and the risk appetite, arrive at the ratio of debt and equity. Ideally, by maintaining a good balance between debt and equity you can achieve long-term growth and reap the benefits of reasonable returns.
The market environment
The predominant factor that influences the performance of debt funds is the interest rate. Keeping an eye on interest rate movements and trying to comprehend their implications will give you a good idea of how your debt funds will perform.
Expense ratio and exit loads
As returns are comparatively low on debt funds the expense ratio becomes a critical consideration for debt funds. Further, most debt funds are subject to exit loads to dissuade investors from exiting prematurely and taking a short-term view on interest rates. This should also be taken into consideration before taking a call on making an investment in debt funds.
Conclusion
When equity markets are on a high, debt funds are usually the last thing on the mind of investors. What investors are usually unaware of is that debt funds are the best way to counter the equity market volatility. If a careful choice is made across debt fund categories keeping in mind one’s overall investment objectives, debt funds can offer the benefits of capital appreciation and yield reasonable returns over a period of time.
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#1
Offset your equity risks by investing in debt funds.
#2
Maintain a good balance of equity and debt in your portfolio.
#3
Keep an eye on interest rates and the overall market environment.
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