Thursday, January 21, 2010

Strategies for the successful investor part 7 : Performance obsession

Many investors are obsessed by performance in that they are always on the alerts for tips, hot stocks or emerging sectors of the economy. These investors always want to be on board of the latest bull market. They always want to buy at the lowest price and sell at the highest price.

However what investors need to know is that assets are mostly cyclical and that their ups and down do not takes place at the same time. Hence while one sector of the economy is down another sector will be down. Hence if you invest too heavily in one sector or in one asset then if their is a downturn or a bull market then you will be too exposed to that sector and as a result your portfolio will be adversely affected and you might lose heavily.

The way to go is to be exposed be a wide variety of assets such that when one asset lose value the decrease will be offset by an increase in the value of another asset. Hence if you are exposed to a wide variety of asset classes you will have your eggs in the same basket. In case their is a loss in one type of assets then it will only be a small part of your portfolio.

Hence the way to go is to through heavy indexing of the market. You will need to be exposed to a wide range of index fund and mutual fund. You will invest in bond fund, mutual fund in stocks, etc.

Hence when you will invest in index fund and mutual fund you will not have the need to chase performance. You will be exposed to every sectors of the economy and all this will be done passively. Hence  you will not need to chase performance. Your return will be close to that of the overall market.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Strategies for the successful investor part 6 :Index the market

Like i said in my previous post trying to outperform the market is a waste of time. The way to go is through index fund or mutual fund since it is rare that someone can outperform the market consistently.

So what would you do if you are investing in traditional assets like stocks and bonds. You have to try to index the market.

What you should do is to invest in companies that are of different sectors of the economy. You will thus select a number of different companies to invest in. What you would do is to add the market capitalisations of all the companies that you want to invest in.

Then if you want to invest in a company X you will have to invest  money in company x acording to the equation below

Money invested = (Market capitalisation of x/total market capitalisation) * money that needs to be invested

You might want to create a spreadsheet to help you determine how much to invest in each company.

Now the indexing will not be similar to a professional index fund but it will approach it if you

1. Choose a large number of sectors of the economy to invest in such the companies you invest in will make your portfolio representative of the economy.

2. in each sector of the economy that you invest in you select a few companies that will be representative of that economy. You will thus invest in a series of mega cap, large cap and small cap companies.

Similarly you will invest in bonds such that you will invest in securities with a wide range of maturities and issuers. Hence your bond portfolio will be spread across municipal bonds, corporate bonds and government bonds. You will also have to invest in the money market and capital market bonds so as to spreads your exposure to different maturities of bonds.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Strategies for the successful investor part 5 :Do not trust experts or fund managers

The one thing that most people think is that they can outsmart the market and have a better return than the overall return of the market. What can happen is that a few person can outperform the market for a few years but over the long run they would most likely either underperform the market or come close to it.

On the long run the best you can do is to equate the average return of the market. Thus the only investment that would come close to the market average rerun would be the index fund or a mutual fund that is invested in a broad range of stocks and bonds.

why is it that no one can outperform the market?

1. Most fund make use of researches and fund managers that are highly paid so that their salaries have to be deducted from the return of the fund. This would thus reduce the fund’s overall return.

2. A lot of these actively managed funds rely on selling and buying of shares so that investors in these funds need to pay capital gains tax. These taxes thus reduce the return of the funds.

3. Actively managed funds rely on timing the market. That is selling high and buy low. This is quite difficult to achieve and and as a result the return is less that anticipated.

Hence the index fund or the passively managed mutual fund is the best bet to achieve a return that is as close to possible to the average return of the market. The fees of these funds are low because the funds do not need to pay a lot of researches and fund managers. They also mostly rely on the buy and hold strategy thus reducing the need to try to time the market.

Although funds that try to actively time the market and employs famous fund managers are quite attractive, history tell us that they always underperform the market so keep away from them.

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Strategies of the successful investor part 4: Rebalancing

One of the most important aspect of your investing life is rebalancing. As you know a portfolio must be diversified in that the portfolio is composed of a wide variety of asset types such as bonds, stocks, etc. Depending on your investment plan and your risk tolerance the different asset classes will be a certain percentage of the portfolio. And in each asset class their would also be some diversification.

You would probably have stocks that are in different sectors of the economy or bonds that are from different types of issuers such as corporate bonds, municipal bonds or government bonds.

Hence it is important that your portfolio composition be as close as possible to that that your plan states. However the economy is not static. Depending on the state of the economy some stocks might increase in value while others decrease in value. This will cause your exposure to these sectors to change. The percentage of the stocks of some sectors of the economy will increase or decrease in your portfolio.

The change in price might also change your exposure to some asset classes. A bull market might increase the percentage of stocks in your portfolio while reducing the percentage of bonds in your portfolio. If left unchecked the asset allocation of your portfolio will change with time and also the riskiness of your portfolio will change. This might thus reduce your chance of reaching your goals.

Thus you need to rebalance regularly. At least once a year is sufficient. Your aim is to reduce your exposure to certain asset classes that have increased in value while increasing your exposure to those that has decreased in value. You will thus return your asset allocation to that that is stated in your investment plan.

You will thus have to sell securities and buy others. This is the most difficult part for some investors because of the cost involved in selling and buying securities. Also some investors may not like selling performing stocks and buying poor performing stocks. However history tells us that a portfolio left to fluctuate with the market always perform poorly.

So keep rebalancing and your portfolio and you will be on course to riches.  

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What are treasury inflation protected securities(or tips)?

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (or TIPS) are bonds that are issued by governments. The advantage that you get with this security is that the principal of the bond is adjusted yearly with inflation.Thus the principal increases every year and its real value will remain the same. This is contrary to other bonds whose nominal value remain constant whereas their real value decreases.

Since the principal is adjusted yearly with inflation, its value will increase and as a result the coupon payment will increase. This bond is thus a good investment in times of high inflation. The value of your investment will keep its real value with time. This compares to the normal bonds whose principal and the coupon remain the same thus losing its real value with time.

However in case of deflation like in Japan, where inflation turns negative, the value of the principal and coupon decrease with time. In this case a normal bond would have maintain its nominal value but would have its real value increasing.

So investing in tips is just about deciding whether the future will bring deflation or inflation.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

What are treasury notes?

Treasury notes are securities that are issued by governments in order to raise funds to finance deficits. It has a maturity that ranges from 2 to 10 years. Hence it is a security that is traded in the capital market. the capital market is the market in which securities that has a maturity of more than 2 years are traded. treasury bonds is also a security that is traded in the capital market.

The treasury notes are issued at a discount and at maturity the face value is paid to the holder of the notes. The holder of the notes is also entitles to a coupon which is like an an interest paid on a certificate of deposit. This coupon is paid according to a coupon rate which  is merely the percentage of the face value of the note that would be paid as the coupon.

The 10 year note is often used to have an indication of future inflationary expectation. It is often used in the bond spread which is the difference in yield between the 10 year note and the three month treasury bill. The three month maturity date is considered to be so close in the future that the inflation in three month will be close to the actual inflation. The 10 year maturity date however is sufficiently far in the future that the inflation at that time cannot be known. However investors will want to ensure that the yield on the ten year note is adjusted for inflation. Hence the difference between two will be the expected inflation in ten years. The difference in the two yield cannot include a  risk premium like the corporate or municipal bond yield because government treasuries are considered to be the safest of securities.

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What are treasury bonds ?

A treasury bond is a government security that has a maturity that ranges from 10 years to 30 years. It is thus a security that is traded in the capital market.

Like the treasury note it is issued at a discount. It also pays a coupon every six months according to a coupon rate. This security is mostly held by institutions that have long term liabilities like pension funds, long term insurers, etc. 

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What is a capital market?

The capital market is a market where securities that  that has a long-term maturity are traded. These include treasury notes, treasury bonds, normal and preferential stocks. Generally securities with a maturity of greater than 1 years are traded in it. As you can see all securities that are not traded in the money market are traded in the capital market. The name capital market also indicate that companies and government raise  capital in this market.

The capital market is divided into two different markets. Firstly the stock market also known as the equity market where normal and preferential stocks are traded. Secondly the bond  market also known as the debt market where notes and bonds are traded.

Hence we can see that when companies and government need short term financing they raise funds in the money market whereas if they want to raise fund over the long term they would do so in the capital market.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Government securities: Bills, notes and bonds

Government securities are debt instruments that are issued by central banks with the aim of raising funds to finance government deficits. They can also be issued as a result of monetary policy where they are used to drain liquid. Although government usually prefer to use longer maturity to finance deficits while central banks usually like short-term maturity securities in monetary policy.

Types of government securities

There are four main types of securities that government issues

1. Treasury bills 

2. Treasury notes

3. Treasury bonds

4. Treasury inflation protected securities (Tips)

These securities given the fact that they are issued by the government they are considered to be quite safe. However you should be aware that not all government securities are safe. Investors should remember examples such as Argentina defaulting on its bonds or Dubai trying to dodge  out of its obligations by asserting that legally the bonds are not issued by the government but by a separate entity control by the government.  

These government securities are also highly liquid. In fact government securities are  the most traded of all securities. This is because by law banks, insurers and other financial institutions are required to hold a certain percentage of safe assets on their balance sheets. Hence a lot of these institutions hold government securities to reduce risk in their portfolio.

The increased liquidity comes from the fact that these institutions needs to have access to their funds at short notice. However when they do not need their money they need to invest it in a safe asset that they can sell easily. Hence this add to the increased liquidity of the government securities.

These securities can be obtained from two ways. Either over the counter at central banks and with financial institutions or though a system of auction at which financial institutions bid for them. we have already seen this system in the post on treasury bills.

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What is a repo/reverse repo?

A repo is a repurchase transaction and it is a security that is part of the money market.

So what is a repurchase transaction? A repurchase transaction is similar to a transaction that takes place in a pawn shop. The owner of a property goes to a pawn shop and exchange it for cash but he promises to come back later to buy the property at a higher price.

Now the same goes for a repo.

1. An institution that needs cash over a short period of time goes to lender with government securities such as government bonds, treasury bills or any other financial instruments that have a high rating as collateral.

2. The lender will lend money to the borrower in exchange for the collateral. The borrower also agrees to buy back the security at a higher price at a particular time.  The difference between the two price is the profit of the lender. The time of repurchase can be from one day to a few months.If the repo transaction is greater than a month it is called a term repo. Less than a month it will be a simple repo.

3. At the agreed time the borrower buy back the collateral at the agreed higher price.

4. In case of default of the borrower the lender keep the collateral.   

You can also have what is called a reverse repo. This is the opposite of a repo. In a reverse repo the the institution will buy a security and later agree to sell the security to the seller at a higher price.

Technically the two terms are used in different circumstances but put simply if the transactions is viewed from the borrower’s perspective where the borrower will repurchase the security later it is a repo but from the lender’s perspective the lender is forced to sell the security to the borrower then it is a reverse repo.

A typical case is when banks obtain funds from the central bank. the bank is considered to be doing a repo while the central bank is considered to be doing a reverse repo.

However it is mostly large institutions that deal in repos.

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

What is an interest-based security?


There are two ways in which securities are issued. They are either issued and interest is earned on the principal, hence the term interest-based securities, or they can be issued at a discount or at a premium, hence the term discount based securities.

In this post I am going to talk about those securities that are interest-based.

When you talk about such securities the investor, you, will invest a certain amount of money called the principal. This is the amount that you would invest at the beginning of the contract and at maturity you will receive this same amount. 

Then the return every year on this amount that is invested is called the interest. The interest earned will be calculated using the interest rate on the investment. The higher the interest rate the higher the interest earned.

Hence generally this principal is invested for a length of time ranging from 7 days to five years. The interest rate of the investment also depend on the length of time for which the principal is invested. Generally the longer the time the higher the interest rate. This is because your money is locked in the investment for a longer length of time. You will thus have to be compensated for the decrease liquidity and the greater risk taken.  

Now there are two ways in which interest will be accrued on the principal. It will be either a simple interest  whereby the interest will be calculated every year on the principal alone. Hence you will obtain the same interest every year.

You can read a post on simple interest here.

The other type of interest is the compound interest  whereby the interest earned every year is calculated on the principal and the interest earned in previous years. You can read a post on compound interest  here.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What is a Banker’s Acceptance?

As we have seen in an earlier post, the Banker’s Acceptance is one of the instruments traded in the money market.

It is simply an instruments that are used by companies to obtain funds. It is generally cheaper than loans or overdraft.

Let us take the examples below to understand how it works.

A company needs money to buy goods for the Christmas season and want to obtain funds from the bank and will pay back the money after Christmas. This company generally needs to pay cash especially if it is buying goods abroad where companies do not want to take the risk to give goods on credit.

The company will approach his bank and will enter into an agreement according to the sequence below.

1. The company approach the bank to enquire about the discount rate on BAs.

2. The BA will have a face value that the company will have to pay after a specific period of time. Likewise any investor that have bought the BA on the secondary market and who will present the BA to the bank at maturity will receive the face value as indicated on the BA.

The BA will also contain the commission that the bank will take from the company. Hence the bank will pay the company the face value minus the commission. If the face value is $ 1 million and the commission of the bank is $ 20000 then the company will receive only $ 980 000. 

3. If the bank accepts this agreement it will endorse it. Hence the name of Banker’s Acceptance. If the bank has accepted the agreement it would have to pay the face value of the BA to the holder of the BA at maturity.

4. The bank will then sell the BA on the secondary market where it will be traded until it reaches maturity.

5. At maturity the company will pay back the face value of the BA to the bank. However even if this does not happen, the bank will have to pay the holder the face value.

However I would still discourage small investors from investing directly in the money market. It is much better to invest in a  money market mutual fund.

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What is a commercial paper?

The commercial paper is a form of debt securities that is issued by companies. As we have seen in this post on bonds government and corporations issue bonds that have maturities of greater than one year on the capital market. With regards to maturities shorter than one year the government will issue treasury bills whereas corporations will issue commercial papers. The commercial paper will thus be, like the treasury bill, a money market instrument.

Hence the commercial paper will be issued at a discount by companies and at maturity the holder of the commercial paper will be paid the face value of the commercial paper. The discount rate will depend on the credit rating of the company and present market conditions. Since it is only companies with good credit rating that can issue commercial papers, the discount rate will slightly higher than government for treasury bills.

Companies are constantly in need of funds to settle current liabilities and to buy inventories. This is because there is always a mismatch between income and spending, The companies will thus raise the short term fund needed in the money market because use of banks for such short-term financing is costlier and time consuming.

Just like the treasury bills, commercial papers are quite safe. This is because the short-term maturities at which they are issued means that investors can determine whether the firm has a risk of default on the commercial paper. This is because investors would have known from previous financial statements whether the companies is sound and what is the possibility of it going bankrupt. However as you may know banks with their exposure to risky derivatives or bank runs may go bankrupt even if they were sound a few months or weeks before.However given the slight possibility of going bankrupt the return will be slightly higher than on treasury bills.

You might thus think that commercial papers will be good to invest in. However these commercial papers are issued at high denominations. As a result the retail investors like you cannot invest directly in them. Thus the only way to get exposure to them is through money market mutual funds.But like I have said in a previous post it would be better if you invest in stocks, government and corporate bonds and other higher yielding instruments.

Happy investing.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

What are treasury bills?

Treasury bills is one type of instruments that is traded in the money market

A treasury bill is typically a bond that is issued by a central bank or by a government that has a maturity of less that one year. The treasury bill is sold without coupon payment. A coupon is a payment that is made every six month. It is paid as a percentage of the nominal price of the bond.Hence the treasury bill is sold at a discount and then the government will pay the face value at maturity.

These treasury bills are issued by governments in order to raise funds from the market. Because these bonds are issued by the government of a country it is therefore considered to be the safest asset and as a result would have the lowest return of all. Because of its safety it is used very often to calculate the bond spread of other bonds. The bond spread is simply the difference in return between the other bond and the return on a three month treasury bill. The greater the bond spread the riskier the bonds.

Treasury bills are also the most liquid and the most traded of all instruments. This is mainly because banks and other non-bank financial companies are required by law to hold them. For banks they may be used as collaterals in repo transactions with the central banks or in the interbank market to obtain funds. Because they are highly liquid these institutions hold them so that they can be readily converted to cash to settle obligations. Otherwise if they have excess funds they invest them in treasury bill in order to get a decent return. Short term insurers also hold a significant amount of treasury bills because they also need to have access to their fund on short notice.

These treasury bills are issued in two ways. They are either issued through auctions or over the counter. Banks and other institutions participate in weekly auctions. They state the price, the discount rate and the maturity that they want and the central banks will allocate the bills starting from the one offering the highest offered price. After they are issued in the primary market they can then be sold in the secondary market where you can buy them. However you can still buy them directly from the central bank.

As an investor you might obtain treasury bills at any institutions that have them in their portfolio and are prepared to sell them or over the counter at the central bank. But I would strongly advise investing in a money market fund if you want to gain exposure to the money market.

However since treasury bills are the safest of all investment it makes no sense investing a lot of money in them. At best you can invest 5 to 10 % in them in case you want to diversify your portfolio and decrease the riskiness of your portfolio. I would myself advise about 10% in a money market mutual fund, 10% in a bond mutual fund and the rest in other instruments such as gold, stocks, and so on.    

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