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About Mutual Funds




A mutual fund is a form of collective investment that pools money from many investors and invests their money in stocks, bonds, short-term money market instruments, and/or other securities. In a mutual fund, the fund manager trades the fund's underlying securities, realizing capital gains or losses, and collects the dividend or interest income. The investment proceeds are then passed along to the individual investors. The value of a share of the mutual fund, known as the net asset value per share (NAV), is calculated daily based on the total value of the fund divided by the number of shares currently issued and outstanding.

Legally known as an "open-end company" under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the primary regulatory statute governing investment companies), a mutual fund is one of three basic types of investment companies available in the United States. Outside of the U.S. (with the exception of Canada, which follows the U.S. model), mutual fund is a generic term for various types of collective investment vehicle. In the U.K. and western Europe (including offshore jurisdictions), other forms of collective investment vehicle are prevalent, including unit trusts, open-ended investment companies (OEICs), SICAVs and unitized insurance funds.

In Australia the term "mutual fund" is not used; the name "managed fund" is used instead. However, "managed fund" is somewhat generic as the definition of a managed fund in Australia is any vehicle in which investors' money is managed by a third party (NB: usually an investment professional or organization). Most managed funds are open-ended (i.e., there is no established maximum number of shares that can be issued); however, this need not be the case. Additionally the Australian government introduced a compulsory superannuation/pension scheme which, although strictly speaking a managed fund, is rarely identified by this term and is instead called a "superannuation fund" because of its special tax concessions and restrictions on when money invested in it can be accessed.

History

Massachusetts Investors Trust was founded on March 21, 1924, and, after one year, had 200 shareholders and $392,000 in assets. The entire industry, which included a few closed-end funds, represented less than $10 million in 1924.

The stock market crash of 1929 slowed the growth of mutual funds. In response to the stock market crash, Congress passed the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. These laws require that a fund be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and provide prospective investors with a prospectus that contains required disclosures about the fund, the securities themselves, and fund manager. The SEC helped draft the Investment Company Act of 1940, which sets forth the guidelines with which all SEC-registered funds today must comply.

With renewed confidence in the stock market, mutual funds began to blossom. By the end of the 1960s, there were approximately 270 funds with $48 billion in assets. The first retail index fund, the First Index Investment Trust, was formed in 1976 and headed by John Bogle, who conceptualized many of the key tenets of the industry in his 1951 senior thesis at Princeton University. It is now called the Vanguard 500 Index fund and is one of the largest mutual funds ever with in excess of $100 billion in assets.

One of the largest contributors of mutual fund growth was individual retirement account (IRA) provisions added to the Internal Revenue Code in 1975, allowing individuals (including those already in corporate pension plans) to contribute $2,000 a year. Mutual funds are now popular in employer-sponsored defined contribution retirement plans (401(k)s), IRAs and Roth IRAs.

As of April 2006, there are 8,606 mutual funds that belong to the Investment Company Institute (ICI), the national association of investment companies in the United States, with combined assets of $9.207 trillion.

Mutual funds can invest in many different kinds of securities. The most common are cash, stock, and bonds, but there are hundreds of sub-categories. Stock funds, for instance, can invest primarily in the shares of a particular industry, such as technology or utilities. These are known as sector funds. Bond funds can vary according to risk (e.g., high-yield or junk bonds, investment-grade corporate bonds), type of issuers (e.g., government agencies, corporations, or municipalities), or maturity of the bonds (short- or long-term). Both stock and bond funds can invest in primarily U.S. securities (domestic funds), both U.S. and foreign securities (global funds), or primarily foreign securities (international funds).

Most mutual funds' investment portfolios are continually adjusted under the supervision of a professional manager, who forecasts the future performance of investments appropriate for the fund and chooses those which he or she believes will most closely match the fund's stated investment objective. A mutual fund is administered through a parent management company, which may hire or fire fund managers.

Mutual funds are subject to a special set of regulatory, accounting, and tax rules. Unlike most other types of business entities, they are not taxed on their income as long as they distribute substantially all of it to their shareholders. Also, the type of income they earn is often unchanged as it passes through to the shareholders. Mutual fund distributions of tax-free municipal bond income are also tax-free to the shareholder. Taxable distributions can be either ordinary income or capital gains, depending on how the fund earned those distributions.

Net asset value

The net asset value, or NAV, is the current market value of a fund's holdings, usually expressed as a per-share amount. For most funds, the NAV is determined daily, after the close of trading on some specified financial exchange, but some funds update their NAV multiple times during the trading day. Open-end funds sell and redeem their shares at the NAV, and so process orders only after the NAV is determined. Closed-end funds (the shares of which are traded by investors) may trade at a higher or lower price than their NAV; this is known as a premium or discount, respectively. If a fund is divided into multiple classes of shares, each class will typically have its own NAV, reflecting differences in fees and expenses paid by the different classes.

Some mutual funds own securities which are not regularly traded on any formal exchange. These may be shares in very small or bankrupt companies; they may be derivatives; or they may be private investments in unregistered financial instruments (such as stock in a non-public company). In the absence of a public market for these securities, it is the responsibility of the fund manager to form an estimate of their value when computing the NAV. How much of a fund's assets may be invested in such securities is stated in the fund's prospectus..

Turnover

Turnover is a measure of the fund's securities transactions, usually calculated over a year's time, and usually expressed as a percentage of net asset value.

This value is usually calculated as the value of all transactions (buying, selling) divided by 2 divided by the fund's total holdings; i.e., the fund counts one security sold and another one bought as one "turnover". Thus turnover measures the replacement of holdings.

In Canada, under NI 81-106 (required disclosure for investment funds) turnover ratio is calculated based on the lesser of purchases or sales divided by the average size of the portfolio (including cash).

Turnover generally has tax consequences for a fund, which are passed through to investors. In particular, when selling an investment from its portfolio, a fund may realize a capital gain, which will ultimately be distributed to investors as taxable income. The very process of buying and selling securities also has its own costs, such as brokerage commissions, which are borne by the fund's shareholders.

Expenses and TER's

Mutual funds bear expenses similar to other companies. The fee structure of a mutual fund can be divided into two or three main components: management fee, nonmanagement expense, and 12b-1/non-12b-1 fees. All expenses are expressed as a percentage of the average daily net assets of the fund.

Management Fees

The management fee for the fund is usually synonymous with the contractual investment advisory fee charged for the management of a fund's investments. However, as many fund companies include administrative fees in the advisory fee component, when attempting to compare the total management expenses of different funds, it is helpful to define management fee as equal to the contractual advisory fee + the contractual administrator fee. This "levels the playing field" when comparing management fee components across multiple funds.

Contractual advisory fees may be structured as "flat-rate" fees, i.e., a single fee charged to the fund, regardless of the asset size of the fund. However, many funds have contractual fees which include breakpoints, so that as the value of a fund's assets increases, the advisory fee paid decreases. Another way in which the advisory fees remain competitive is by structuring the fee so that it is based on the value of all of the assets of a group or a complex of funds rather than those of a single fund.

Non-management Expenses

Apart from the management fee, there are certain nonmanagement expenses which most funds must pay. Some of the more significant (in terms of amount) nonmanagement expenses are: transfer agent expenses (this is usually the person you get on the other end of the phone line when you want to purchase/sell shares of a fund), custodian expense (the fund's assets are kept in custody by a bank which charges a custody fee), legal/audit expense, fund accounting expense, registration expense (the SEC charges a registration fee when funds file registration statements with it), board of directors/trustees expense (the disinterested members of the board who oversee the fund are usually paid a fee for their time spent at board meetings), and printing and postage expense (incurred when printing and delivering shareholder reports).

12b-1/Non-12b-1 Service Fees

12b-1 service fees/shareholder servicing fees are contractual fees which a fund may charge to cover the marketing expenses of the fund. Non-12b-1 service fees are marketing/shareholder servicing fees which do not fall under SEC rule 12b-1. While funds do not have to charge the full contractual 12b-1 fee, they often do. When investing in a front-end load or no-load fund, the 12b-1 fees for the fund are usually .250% (or 25 basis points). The 12b-1 fees for back-end and level-load share classes are usually between 50 and 75 basis points but may be as much as 100 basis points. While funds are often marketed as "no-load" funds, this does not mean they do not charge a distribution expense through a different mechanism. It is expected that a fund listed on an online brokerage site will be paying for the "shelf-space" in a different manner even if not directly through a 12b-1 fee.

Fees and Expenses Borne by the Investor (not the Fund)

Fees and expenses borne by the investor vary based on the arrangement made with the investor's broker. Sales loads (or contingent deferred sales loads (CDSL)) are not included in the fund's total expense ratio (TER) because they do not pass through the statement of operations for the fund. Additionally, funds may charge early redemption fees to discourage investors from swapping money into and out of the fund quickly, which may force the fund to make bad trades to obtain the necessary liquidity. For example, Fidelity Diversified International Fund (FDIVX) charges a 1 percent fee on money removed from the fund in less than 30 days.

Brokerage Commissions

An additional expense which does not pass through the statement of operations and cannot be controlled by the investor is brokerage commissions. Brokerage commissions are incorporated into the price of the fund and are reported usually 3 months after the fund's annual report in the statement of additional information. Brokerage commissions are directly related to portfolio turnover (portfolio turnover refers to the number of times the fund's assets are bought and sold over the course of a year). Usually the higher the rate of the portfolio turnover, the higher the brokerage commissions. The advisors of mutual fund companies are required to achieve "best execution" through brokerage arrangements so that the commissions charged to the fund will not be excessive.

Types of mutual funds

Open-end fund
The term mutual fund is the common name for an open-end investment company. Being open-ended means that, at the end of every day, the fund issues new shares to investors and buys back shares from investors wishing to leave the fund. Mutual funds may be legally structured as corporations or business trusts but in either instance are classed as open-end investment companies by the SEC. Other funds have a limited number of shares; these are either closed-end funds or unit investment trusts, neither of which is a mutual fund.

Exchange-traded funds
A relatively new innovation, the exchange traded fund (ETF), is often formulated as an open-end investment company. ETFs combine characteristics of both mutual funds and closed-end funds. An ETF usually tracks a stock index (see Index funds). Shares are issued or redeemed by institutional investors in large blocks (typically of 50,000). Investors typically purchase shares in small quantities through brokers at a small premium or discount to the net asset value; this is how the institutional investor makes its profit. Because the institutional investors handle the majority of trades, ETFs are more efficient than traditional mutual funds (which are continuously issuing new securities and redeeming old ones, keeping detailed records of such issuance and redemption transactions, and, to effect such transactions, continually buying and selling securities and maintaining liquidity position) and therefore tend to have lower expenses. ETFs are traded throughout the day on a stock exchange, just like closed-end funds.

Equity funds
Equity funds, which consist mainly of stock investments, are the most common type of mutual fund. Equity funds hold 50 percent of all amounts invested in mutual funds in the United States. Often equity funds focus investments on particular strategies and certain types of issuers.

Capitalization

Some mutual funds focus investments on companies in particular size ranges, with size measured by their market capitalization. The size ranges include micro-cap, small-cap, mid-cap, and large-cap. Fund managers and other investment professionals have varying definitions of these market cap ranges. The following ranges are used by Russell Indexes:

              Russell Microcap Index - micro-cap ($54.8 - 539.5 million)
Russell 2000 Index - small-cap ($182.6 million - 1.8 billion)
Russell Midcap Index - mid-cap ($1.8 - 13.7 billion)
Russell 1000 Index - large-cap ($1.8 - 386.9 billion)

Growth vs. value

Another distinction made is between growth funds, which invest in stocks of companies that have the potential for large capital gains, and value funds, which concentrate on stocks that are undervalued. Growth stocks typically have the potential for a greater return; however, such investments also bear larger risks. Growth funds tend not to pay regular dividends. Sector funds focus on specific industry sectors, such as biotechnology or energy. Income funds tend to be more conservative investments, with a focus on stocks that pay dividends. A balanced fund may use a combination of strategies, typically including some level of investment in bonds, to stay more conservative when it comes to risk, yet aim for some growth.

Index funds versus active management

An index fund maintains investments in companies that are part of major stock (or bond) indices, such as the S&P 500, while an actively managed fund attempts to outperform a relevant index through superior stock-picking techniques. The assets of an index fund are managed to closely approximate the performance of a particular published index. Since the composition of an index changes infrequently, an index fund manager makes fewer trades, on average, than does an active fund manager. For this reason, index funds generally have lower trading expenses than actively managed funds, and typically incur fewer short-term capital gains which must be passed on to shareholders. Additionally, index funds do not incur expenses to pay for selection of individual stocks (proprietary selection techniques, research, etc.) and deciding when to buy, hold or sell individual holdings. Instead, a fairly simple computer model can identify whatever changes are needed to bring the fund back into agreement with its target index.

The performance of an actively managed fund largely depends on the investment decisions of its manager. Statistically, for every investor who outperforms the market, there is one who underperforms. Among those who outperform their index before expenses, though, many end up underperforming after expenses. Before expenses, a well-run index fund should have average performance. By minimizing the impact of expenses, index funds should be able to perform better than average.

Certain empirical evidence seems to illustrate that mutual funds do not beat the market and actively managed mutual funds under-perform other broad-based portfolios with similar characteristics. One study found that nearly 1,500 U.S. mutual funds under-performed the market in approximately half of the years between 1962 and 1992. Moreover, funds that performed well in the past are not able to beat the market again in the future (shown by Jensen, 1968; Grimblatt and Titman, 1989. However, as quantitative finance is in its early stages of development, more accurate studies are required to reach a decisive conclusion.

Bond funds

Bond funds account for 18% of mutual fund assets. Types of bond funds include term funds, which have a fixed set of time (short-, medium-, or long-term) before they mature. Municipal bond funds generally have lower returns, but have tax advantages and lower risk. High-yield bond funds invest in corporate bonds, including high-yield or junk bonds. With the potential for high yield, these bonds also come with greater risk.

Money market funds

Money market funds hold 26% of mutual fund assets in the United States. Money market funds entail the least risk, as well as lower rates of return. Unlike certificates of deposit (CDs), money market shares are liquid and redeemable at any time. The interest rate quoted by money market funds is known as the 7 Day SEC Yield.

Funds of Funds

Funds of Funds (FoF) are mutual funds which invest in other underlying mutual funds (i.e., they are funds comprised of other funds). The funds at the underlying level are typically funds which an investor can invest in individually. A fund of funds will typically charge a management fee which is smaller than that of a normal fund because it is considered a fee charged for asset allocation services. The fees charged at the underlying fund level do not pass through the statement of operations, but are usually disclosed in the fund's annual report, prospectus, or statement of additional information. The fund should be evaluated on the combination of the fund-level expenses and underlying fund expenses, as these both reduce the return to the investor.

Most FoFs invest in affiliated funds (i.e., mutual funds managed by the same advisor), although some invest in funds managed by other (unaffiliated) advisors. The cost associated with investing in an unaffiliated underlying fund is most often higher than investing in an affiliated underlying because of the investment management research involved in investing in fund advised by a different advisor. Recently, FoFs have be classified into those that are actively managed (in which the investment advisor reallocates frequently among the underlying funds in order to adjust to changing market conditions) and those that are passively managed (the investment advisor allocates assets on the basis of on an allocation model which is rebalanced on a regular basis).

The design of FoFs is structured in such a way as to provide a ready mix of mutual funds for investors who are unable to or unwilling to determine their own asset allocation model. Fund companies such as TIAA-CREF, Vanguard, and Fidelity have also entered this market to provide investors with these options and take the "guess work" out of selecting funds. The allocation mixes usually vary by the time the investor would like to retire: 2020, 2030, 2050, etc. The more distant the target retirement date, the more aggressive the asset mix.

Hedge funds

Hedge funds in the United States are pooled investment funds with loose SEC regulation and should not be confused with mutual funds. Certain hedge funds are required to register with SEC as investment advisers under the Investment Advisers Act. The Act does not require an adviser to follow or avoid any particular investment strategies, nor does it require or prohibit specific investments. Hedge funds typically charge a fee greater than 1%, plus a "performance fee" of 20% of a hedge fund's profits. There may be a "lock-up" period, during which an investor cannot cash in shares.

Mutual funds vs. other investments

Mutual funds offer several advantages over investing in individual stocks, including diversification and professional management. A mutual fund may hold investments in hundreds or thousands of stocks, thus reducing the risk associated with owning any particular stock. Moreover, the transaction costs associated with buying individual stocks are spread around among all the mutual fund shareholders. Additionally, a mutual fund benefits from professional fund managers who can apply their expertise and dedicate time to research investment options. Mutual funds, however, are not immune to risks. Mutual funds share the same risks associated with the types of investments the fund makes. If the fund invests primarily in stocks, the mutual fund is usually subject to the same ups and downs and risks as the stock market.

Selecting a mutual fund

Picking a mutual fund from among the thousands offered is not easy. Following are some guidelines:

             1. Prior to investing in a tax-exempt or tax-managed fund, it is best to determine if the tax savings will offset the possibly lower returns. Additionally, these funds are inappropriate for IRAs and other tax-sheltered types of account.
2. Investors should match the term of the investment to the time period they expect to keep the investment. Money that may be needed in the short term (for example, for car repairs) should generally be in a less volatile fund, such as a money market fund. Money not needed until a retirement date decades into the future (or for a newborn's college education) can reasonably be invested in longer-term, higher-risk investments, such as stock or bond funds. Investing short-term money in volatile investments puts the investor at risk of having to sell when the market is low, thereby incurring a loss. Investing over the long term in very stable investments, on the other hand, significantly reduces potential returns.
3. Fund expenses degrade investment performance, especially over the long term. Accordingly, all other things being equal, the lower the expenses, the better. A mutual fund's expense ratio is required to be disclosed in the prospectus. Expense ratios are critical in index funds, which seek to match the performance of bond or stock index. Actively managed funds must pay the manager for the active management of the portfolio, so they usually have a higher expense ratio than (passively managed) index funds.
4. Several sector funds often make the "best fund" lists each year. However, the "best" sector varies from year to year. Most sectors are vulnerable to industry-wide events that can have a significant negative effect on performance. It is generally best to avoid making these a large part of one's portfolio.
5. Closed-end funds often sell at a discount to the value of their holdings. An investor can sometimes obtain extra return by buying such funds, but only if they are willing to hold the fund until the discount rebounds. Some hedge fund managers use this gambit. However, this also implies that buying at the original issue may be a bad idea, since the price often drops immediately because of liquidity concerns.
6. Mutual funds often make taxable distributions near the end of the year (semi-annual and quarterly distributions are also fairly common). If an investor plans to invest in a taxable fund, he or she should check the fund company's website to see when the fund plans to distribute dividends and capital gains. Investing just prior to the distribution results in part of one's investment being returned as taxable income without increasing the value of the account.
7. Prospective investors in mutual funds should read the prospectus. The prospectus is required by law to disclose the risks will be taken with investors' money, among other vital topics. Potential investors should also compare the return and risk profile of a fund against its peers with similar investment objectives and against the index most closely associated with it, paying particular attention to performance over both the long term and the short term. A fund that gained 50% over a 1-year period (an impressive result) but only 10% over a 5-year period should create some suspicion, as that would imply that the returns in four out of those five years were actually very low (possibly even negative (i.e., losses)), as 10% compounded over 5 years is only 61%.
8. Diversification can reduce risk. Depending on an investor's risk tolerance and his or her investment horizon, it may be advisable to hold some stocks, some bonds, and some cash. For longer-term investments, it is advisable to invest in some foreign stocks. If all of an investor's mutual funds belong to the same family of funds, the investor's total portfolio might not be as diversified as it might seem. This is so because funds within the same family may share research and recommendations. The same is true for investors who own multiple funds with the same profile or investment strategy; their returns will likely be similar. Holding too large a number of funds, on the other hand, will tend to produce the same effect as holding an index fund, but with higher expenses. Buying individual stocks exposes investors to company-specific and industry-specific risks, and if investors buy a large number of stocks, the commissions may cost more than a fund would.

Share Classes

Many mutual funds offer more than one class of shares. For example, you may have seen a fund that offers "Class A" and "Class B" shares. Each class will invest in the same "pool" (or investment portfolio) of securities and will have the same investment objectives and policies. But each class will have different shareholder services and/or distribution arrangements with different fees and expenses. These differences are supposed to reflect different costs involved in servicing investors in various classes; for example, one class may be sold through brokers with a front-end load, and another class may be sold direct to the public with no load but a "12b-1 fee" included in the class's expenses (sometimes referred to as "Class C" shares). Still a third class might have a minimum investment of $10,000,000 and be available only to financial institutions (a so-called "institutional" share class). In some cases, by aggregating regular investments made by many individuals, a retirement plan (such as a 401(k) plan) may qualify to purchase "institutional" shares (and gain the benefit of their typically lower expense ratios) even though no members of the plan would qualify individually. As a result, each class will likely have different performance results.

A multi-class structure offers investors the ability to select a fee and expense structure that is most appropriate for their investment goals (including the length of time that they expect to remain invested in the fund).

Load and expenses

A front-end load or sales charge is a commission paid to a broker by a mutual fund when shares are purchased, taken as a percentage of funds invested. The value of the investment is reduced by the amount of the load. Some funds have a deferred sales charge or back-end load. In this type of fund an investor pays no sales charge when purchasing shares, but will pay a commission out of the proceeds when shares are redeemed depending on how long they are held. Another derivative structure is a level-load fund, in which no sales charge is paid when buying the fund, but a back-end load may be charged if the shares purchased are sold within a year.

Load funds are sold through financial intermediaries such as brokers, financial planners, and other types of registered representatives who charge a commission for their services. Shares of front-end load funds are frequently eligible for breakpoints (i.e., a reduction in the commission paid) based on a number of variables. These include other accounts in the same fund family held by the investor or various family members, or committing to buy more of the fund within a set period of time in return for a lower commission "today".

It is possible to buy many mutual funds without paying a sales charge. These are called no-load funds. In addition to being available from the fund company itself, no-load funds may be sold by some discount brokers for a flat transaction fee or even no fee at all. (This does not necessarily mean that the broker is not compensated for the transaction; in such cases, the fund may pay brokers' commissions out of "distribution and marketing" expenses rather than a specific sales charge. The purchaser is therefore paying the fee indirectly through the fund's expenses deducted from profits.)

No-load funds include both index funds and actively managed funds. The largest mutual fund families selling no-load index funds are Vanguard and Fidelity, though there are a number of smaller mutual fund families with no-load funds as well. Expense ratios in some no-load index funds are less than 0.2% per year versus the typical actively managed fund's expense ratio of about 1.5% per year. Load funds usually have even higher expense ratios when the load is considered. The expense ratio is the anticipated annual cost to the investor of holding shares of the fund. For example, on a $100,000 investment, an expense ratio of 0.2% means $200 of annual expense, while a 1.5% expense ratio would result in $1,500 of annual expense. These expenses are before any sales commissions paid to purchase the mutual fund.

Many fee-only financial advisors strongly suggest no-load funds such as index funds. If the advisor is not of the fee-only type but is instead compensated by commissions, the advisor may have a conflict of interest in selling high-commission load funds.

Criticism of managed mutual funds

Historically, actively managed mutual funds, over long periods of time, have not returned as much as comparable index mutual funds. This, of course, is a criticism of one type of mutual fund over another.

Another criticism concerns sales commissions on load funds, an upfront or deferred fee as high as 8.5 percent of the amount invested in a fund. No-load funds typically charge a 12b-1 fee in order to pay for shelf space on the exchange the investor uses for purchase of the fund, but they do not pay a load directly to a mutual fund broker. Critics point out that high sales commissions represent a conflict of interest, as high commissions benefit the sales people but hurt the investors. High commissions can also cause sales people to recommend funds that maximize their income. Again, this is a criticism of one type of mutual fund over another.

Mutual funds are also seen by some to have a conflict of interest with regard to their size. Fund companies charge a management fee of anywhere between 0.5 percent and 2.5 percent of the fund's total assets. Theoretically, this should motivate the fund managers, since a well performing fund will cause the amount invested in the fund to rise and increasing the fee earned. It also could motivate the fund company to focus on advertising to attract more and more new investors, as new investors would also cause the fund assets to increase.

Many analysts, however, believe that the larger the pool of money one works with, the harder it is to manage actively, and the harder it is to squeeze good performance out of it. Thus a fund company can be focused on attracting new customers, thereby hurting its existing investors' performance. A great deal of a fund's costs are flat and fixed costs, such as the salary for the manager. Thus it can be more profitable for the fund to try to allow it to grow as large as possible, instead of limiting its assets. Some fund companies, notably the Vanguard Group and Fidelity Investments, have closed some funds to new investors to maintain the integrity of the funds for existing investors.

Other criticisms of mutual funds are that some funds allow market timing (although many fund companies tightly control this) and that some fund managers accept extravagant gifts in exchange for trading stocks through certain investment banks, which presumably charge the fund more for transactions than would non-gifting investment bank. As a result, many fund companies strictly limit -- or completely bar -- such gifts.

Scandals

In September 2003, the United States mutual fund industry was beset by a scandal in which major fund companies permitted and facilitated "late trading" and "market timing".

 


About "Open-End" and "Closed-End" Funds


An open-end(ed) fund is a collective investment which can issue and redeem shares at any time. An investor can purchase shares in such funds directly from the mutual fund company, or through a brokerage house.

Open-ended funds are available in most developed countries, however terminology and operating rules vary. For example in the U.S. they are called mutual funds, in the UK they are either unit trusts or OEICs (Open-Ended Investment Companies) and in most of Europe they are SICAVs.

An open-ended fund is equitably divided into shares (or units) which vary in price in direct proportion to the variation in value of the funds net asset value. Each time money is invested new shares or units are created to match the prevailing share price; each time shares are redeemed the assets sold match the prevailing share price. In this way there is no supply or demand created for shares and they remain a direct reflection of the underlying assets.

Fees

There may be a percentage charge levied on purchase or sale of shares--in this case, the fund is a "load fund"; if there are no such charges levied, the fund is "no-load". However, brokerages may charge commissions for the purchase of even no-load funds, and there might also be other fees associated with no-load funds, such as yearly maintenance fees in IRA accounts and redemption fees designed to discourage shareholders from jumping in and out of funds in an attempt at market timing.

Active Management

Most open-end funds are actively managed, meaning that a portfolio manager picks the securities to buy, although index funds are now growing in popularity. Index funds are open-end funds that attempt to replicate an index, such as the S&P 500, and therefore do not allow the manager to actively choose securities to buy. These fees are commonly referred to as 12b-1 fees in U.S.

Net asset value

The price per share, or NAV (net asset value), is calculated by dividing the fund's assets minus liabilities by the number of shares outstanding. This is usually calculated at the end of every trading day.

U.S. mutual funds:

             T.Rowe Price
Fidelity Investments' Magellan
The Vanguard Group's S&P 500
PIMCO Total Return

Closed-end fund

A closed-end fund is a collective investment scheme with a limited number of shares.

In the U.S. legally they are called closed-end companies and form one of three SEC recognized types of investment company along with mutual funds and unit investment trusts. (Click here for US SEC description of investment company types).

Other examples of close-ended funds are Investment trusts in the UK and Listed investment companies in Australia.

New shares are rarely issued after the fund is launched; shares are not normally redeemable for cash or securities until the fund liquidates. Typically an investor can acquire shares in a closed-end fund by buying shares on a secondary market from a broker, market maker, or other investor -- as opposed to an open-end fund where all transactions eventually involve the fund company creating new shares on the fly (in exchange for either cash or securities) or redeeming shares (for cash or securities).

The price of a share in a closed-end fund is determined partially by the value of the investments in the fund, and partially by the premium (or discount) placed on it by the market. The total value of all the securities in the fund divided by the number of shares in the fund is called the net asset value, often abbreviated NAV. The market price of a fund share is often higher or lower than the NAV: when the fund's share price is higher than NAV it is said to be selling at a premium; when it is lower, at a discount to the NAV.

Availability

Closed end funds are typically traded on the major global stock exchanges, in the U.S. the New York Stock Exchange is dominant although the Amex is in competition; in the UK the London Stock Exchange's main market is home to the mainstream funds although AIM supports many small funds especially the Venture Capital Trusts; in Canada, the Toronto Stock Exchange lists many closed-end funds.

Like their better-known open-ended cousins, closed-end funds are usually sponsored by a funds management company which will control how the money is invested. They begin by soliciting money from investors in an initial offering, which may be public or limited. The investors are given shares corresponding to their initial investment. The fund managers pool the money and purchase securities. What exactly the fund manager can invest depends on the fund's charter. Some funds invest in stocks, others in bonds, and some in very specific things (for instance, tax-exempt bonds issued by the state of Florida in the USA).

Distinguishing features

Some characteristics that distinguish a closed-end fund from an ordinary open-end mutual fund are that:

             1. it's closed to new capital after it begins operating, and
2. its shares (typically) trade on stock exchanges rather than being redeemed directly by the fund.
3. its shares can therefore be traded during the market day at any time. An open-end fund can usually be traded only at the closing price at the end of the market day.
4. a CEF usually has a premium or discount. An open-end fund sells at its NAV (except for sales charges).

Another distinguishing feature of a closed-end fund is the common use of leverage or gearing to enhance returns. CEFs can raise additional investment capital by issuing auction rate securities, preferred shares, long-term debt, and/or reverse-repurchase agreements, although this is rare in the USA outside of income-focused funds. In doing so, the fund hopes to earn a higher return with this excess invested capital.

When a fund leverages through the issuance of preferred stock, two types of shareholders are created: preferred stock shareholders and common stock shareholders.

Preferred stock shareholders benefit from expenses based off of the total managed assets of the fund. Total managed assets include both the assets attributable to the purchase of stock by common shareholders and those attributable to the purchase of stock by preferred shareholders.

The expenses charged to the common shareholder are based off of the common assets of the fund, rather than the total managed assets of the fund. The common shareholder's returns are reduced more significantly than those of the preferred shareholders due to the expenses being spread among a smaller asset base.

For the most part, closed-end fund companies report expenses ratios based off of the fund's common assets only. However, the contractual management fees charged to the closed-end funds may be based off of the common asset base only or the total managed asset base.

The entry into long-term debt arrangements and reverse-repurchase agreements are two additional ways to raise additional capital for the fund. Funds may use a combination of leveraging tactics or each individually. However, it is more common that the fund will use only one leveraging technique.

Since closed-end funds are traded as stock, a customer trading them will pay a brokerage commission similar to one paid when trading stock (as opposed to commissions on open-ended mutual funds where the commission will vary based on the share class chosen and the method of purchasing the fund). In other words, closed-end funds typically do not have sales-based share classes where the commission and annual fees vary between them. The main exception is loan-participation funds.

Initial offering

Like a company going public, a closed-end fund will have an initial public offering of its shares at which it will sell, say, 10 million shares for $10 each. That will raise $100 million for the fund manager to invest. At that point, however, the fund's 10 million shares will begin to trade on a secondary market, typically the NYSE or the AMEX for American closed-end funds. Any investor who wishes to buy or sell fund shares at that point will have to do so on the secondary market. Except for exceptional circumstances, closed-end funds do not redeem their own shares. Nor, typically, do they sell more shares after the IPO (although they may issue preferred stock, in essence taking out a loan secured by the portfolio).

Exchange traded

Closed-end fund shares trade continually at whatever price the market will support. They also qualify for advanced types of orders such as limit orders and stop orders. This is in contrast to open-end funds which are only available for buying and selling at the close of business each day, at the calculated NAV, and for which orders must be placed in advance, before the NAV is known, and can only be simple buy or sell orders. Some funds require that orders be placed hours or days in advance.

Closed-end funds trade on exchanges and in that respect they are like Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), but there are important difference between these two kinds of security. The price of a closed-end fund is completely determined by the valuation of the market, and this price often diverges substantially from the NAV of the fund assets. In contrast, the market price of an ETF trades in a very close range of its net asset value, because the structure of the ETF would allow major market participants to gain arbitrage profits if the market price of the ETF were to diverge substantially from the NAV. The market prices of closed-end funds are often ten to twenty percent different than the NAV while the value of an ETF would only very rarely differ from the NAV by more than one-fifth of a percent.

Discounts and Premiums

As a secondary effect of being exchange-traded, the price of CEFs can vary from the NAV. In particular, fund shares often trade at what look to be irrational prices because secondary market prices are often very much out of line with underlying portfolio values. A CEF can also have a premium at some times, and a discount at other times. For example, Morgan Stanley Eastern Europe Fund (RNE) on the NYSE was trading at a premium of 39% in May of 2006 and at a discount of 6% in October of 2006. These huge swings are difficult to explain.

US closed-end stock funds often have share prices that are typically about 5% less than the Net Asset Value. That is, if a fund has 10 million shares outstanding and if its portfolio is worth $200 million, then each share should be worth $20 and you would expect that the market price of the fund's shares on the secondary market would be around $20. But, very oddly, that's typically not the case. The shares may trade for only $19 or even only $17. In the former case, the fund would be said to be "trading at a 5% discount to NAV,". In the latter case, the fund would be said to be trading at a 15% discount to NAV.

The presence of discounts is also puzzling since if a fund is trading at a discount, theoretically a well-capitalized investor could come along and buy up all the fund's shares at the discounted price in order to gain control of the portfolio and force the fund managers to liquidate it at its (higher) market value (although in reality, liquidity concerns make this impossible since the Bid/offer spread will drastically widen as fewer and fewer shares are available in the market). Benjamin Graham claimed that an investor can hardly go wrong by buying such a fund with a 15% discount. However, the opposing view is that the fund may not liquidate in your timeframe and you may be forced to sell at an even worse discount, or the investments in the fund may lose value.

Even stranger, funds very often trade at a substantial premium to NAV. Some of these premia are extreme, with premia of several hundred percent having been seen on occasion. Why anyone would pay $30 per share for a fund whose portfolio value per share is only $10 is not well understood, although irrational exuberance has been mentioned. One theory is that if the fund has a strong track record of performance, investors may speculate that the outperformance is due to good investment choices by the fund managers and that the fund managers will continue to make good choices in the future. Thus the premium represents the ability to instantly participate in the fruits of the fund manager's decisions.

A great deal of academic ink has been spent trying to explain why closed-end fund share prices aren't forced by arbitrageurs to be equal to underlying portfolio values. Though there are many strong opinions, the jury is still out. It is easier to understand in cases where the CEF is able to pick and choose assets and arbitrageurs are not able to determine the specific assets until months later, but some funds are forced to replicate a specific index and still trade at a discount.

Comparison with open-ended funds

With open-ended funds, the value is precisely equal to the NAV. So investing $1000 into the fund means buying shares that lay claim to $1000 worth of underlying assets (apart from sales charges). But buying a closed-end fund trading at a premium might mean buying $900 worth of assets for $1000.

Some advantages of closed-end funds over their open-ended cousins are financial. CEFs' fees are usually much lower (since they don't have to deal with the expense of creating and redeeming shares), they tend to keep less cash in their portfolio, and they need not worry about market fluctuations to maintain their "performance record". So if a stock drops irrationally, the closed-end fund may snap up a bargain, while open-ended funds might sell too early.

Also, if there is a market panic, investors may sell en masse. Faced with a wave of sell orders and needing to raise money for redemptions, the manager of an open-ended fund may be forced to sell stocks he'd rather keep, and keep stocks he'd rather sell, due to liquidity concerns (selling too much of any one stock causes the price to drop disproportionately). Thus all it may have left are the dud stocks that no one wants to buy. But an investor pulling out of a closed-end fund must sell it on the market to another buyer, so the manager need not sell any of the underlying stock. The CEF's price will likely drop more than the market does (severely punishing those who sell during the panic), but it is more likely to make a recovery when the intrinsically sound stocks rebound.

Because a closed-end fund is on the market, it must obey certain rules, such as filing reports with the listing authority and holding annual stockholder meetings. Thus stockholders can more easily find out about their fund and engage in shareholder activism, such as protest against poor management.

 


What is an "Index Fund"?


An index fund or index tracker is a collective investment scheme that aims to replicate the movements of an index of a specific financial market, or a set of rules of ownership that are held constant, regardless of market conditions.

Tracking can be achieved by trying to hold all of the securities in the index, in the same proportions as the index. Other methods include statistically sampling the market and holding "representative" securities. Many index funds rely on a computer model with little or no human input in the decision as to which securities to purchase and is therefore a form of passive management.

The lack of active management (stock picking and market timing) gives the advantage of lower fees and lower taxes in taxable accounts. However, the fees will always reduce the return to the investor relative to the index. In addition it is impossible to precisely mirror the index as the models for sampling and mirroring, by their nature, cannot be 100% accurate. The difference between the index performance and the fund performance is known as the 'tracking error'.

Index funds are available from many investment managers. Some common indices include the S&P 500, the Wilshire 5000, the FTSE 100 and the FTSE All-Share Index. Less common indexes come from academics like Eugene Fama and Kenneth French, who created "research indexes" in order to develop asset pricing models, such as their Three Factor Model.

Origins of the index fund

The history that lead to the creation of index funds can be traced back to 1654, see this extensive history of modern portfolio theory.

In 1973, Burton Malkiel published his book "A Random Walk Down Wall Street" which presented academic findings for the lay public. It was becoming well-known in the lay financial press that most mutual funds were not beating the market indices, to which the standard reply was made "of course, you can't buy an index." Malkiel said, "It's time the public can."

John Bogle graduated from Princeton University in 1951, where his senior thesis was titled: "Mutual Funds can make no claims to superiority over the Market Averages." Bogle wrote that his inspiration came from three sources, all of which confirmed his 1951 research: Paul Samuelson's 1974 paper, "Challenge to Judgment", Charles Ellis' 1975 study, "The Loser's Game," and Al Ehrbar's 1975 Fortune magazine article on indexing. Bogle founded The Vanguard Group in 1974; it is now the second largest mutual fund company in the United States as of 2005.

When Bogle started the First Index Investment Trust on December 31, 1975, it was labeled Bogle's follies and regarded as un-American, because it sought to achieve the averages rather than insisting that Americans had to play to win. This first Index mutual fund offered to individual investors was later renamed the Vanguard 500 Index Fund, which tracks the Standard and Poor's 500 Index. It started with comparatively meager assets of $11 million but crossed the $100 billion milestone in November 1999; this astonishing increase was funded by the market's increasing willingness to invest in such a product. Bogle predicted in January 1992 that it would very likely surpass the Magellan Fund before 2001, which it did in 2000. "But in the financial markets it is always wise to expect the unexpected"

John McQuown and David Booth at Wells Fargo and Rex Sinquefield at American National Bank in Chicago both established the first Standard and Poor's Composite Index Funds in 1973. Both of these funds were established for institutional clients; individual investors were excluded. Wells Fargo started with $5 million from their own pension fund, while Illinois Bell put in $5 million of their pension funds at American National Bank.

In 1981, David Booth and Rex Sinquefield started Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA), many years later McQuown joined its Board of Directors. DFA further developed indexed based investment strategies and currently has $120 billion under management (as of Dec. 2006). Independent financial advisors (like IFA) guide individual investors when purchasing DFA funds. Dimensional Fund Advisors strives to deliver the performance of capital markets and add value through portfolio design and trading. The firm departs from the rules and rigidity of traditional index funds and avoids the cost-generating activity of stock picking and market timing. Instead DFA focuses on the dimensions of capital markets that reward investors and they deliver them as intelligently and effectively as possible. Financial science has documented that, over the long term, small cap stocks outperform large cap stocks and value stocks outperform growth stocks. These returns seem to be compensation for risk. In fixed income, risk is well described by bond maturity and credit quality. Dimensional's investment strategies deliberately target specific risk factors. They are highly diversified and painstakingly designed to work together in a total index portfolio.

Wells Fargo sold its indexing operation to Barclay's Bank of London, and it now operates as Barclays Global Investors; it is one of the world's largest money managers with over $1.5 trillion under management as of 2005.

Economic theory

Economists cite the efficient market theory as the fundamental premise that justifies the creation of the index funds. The theory states that fund managers and stock analysts are constantly looking for securities that may out-perform the market; and that competition is so effective that any new information about the fortune of a company will translate into movements of the stock price almost instantly. It is postulated therefore that it is very difficult to tell ahead of time whether a certain stock will out-perform the market. By creating an index fund that mirrors the whole market the inefficiencies of stock selection are avoided.

A comparison of active investing and passive investing can be found here.

Indexing methods

Synthetic indexing

Synthetic indexing is a modern technique of using a combination of equity index futures contracts and investments in low risk bonds to replicate the performance of a similar overall investment in the equities making up the index. Although maintaining the future position has a slightly higher cost structure than traditional passive sampling, synthetic indexing can result in more favorable tax treatment, particularly for international investors who are subject to U.S. dividend withholding taxes. The bond portion can also hold higher yielding instruments, with a trade-off of corresponding higher risk, a technique referred to as enhanced indexing.

Enhanced indexing

Enhanced indexing is an approach to index fund management that uses a variety of techniques to create index funds that seek to emphasize performance, possibly using active management. Enhanced index funds employ a variety of enhancement techniques, including customized indexes (instead of relying on commercial indexes), trading strategies, exclusion rules, and timing strategies. Cost advantage of indexing could be reduced by employing active management.

Advantages

Low costs

Because the composition of a target index is a known quantity, it costs less to run an index fund. No highly paid stock pickers or analysts are needed. Typically expense ratios of an index fund ranges from 0.15 for US Large Company Indexes to 0.97% for Emerging Market Indexes. The expense ratio of the average large cap actively managed mutual fund as of 2005 is 1.36%. If a mutual fund produces 10% return before expenses, taking account of the expense ratio difference would result in an after expense return of 9.85% for the large cap index fund versus 8.64% for the actively managed large cap fund.

Simplicity

The investment objectives of index funds are easy to understand. Once an investor knows the target index of an index fund, what securities the index fund will hold can be determined directly. Managing one's index fund holdings may be as easy as rebalancing every six months or every year.

Lower turnovers

Turnover refers to the selling and buying securities by the fund manager. Selling securities in some jurisdictions may result in capital gains tax charges, which are sometime passed on to fund investors. Because index funds are passive investments, the turnovers are lower than actively managed funds. According a study conducted by John Bogle over a sixteen-year period, investors only get to keep 47% of the cumulative return of the average actively managed mutual fund, but they keep 87% in a market index fund. This means $10,000 invested in the index fund grew to $90,000 vs. $49,000 in the average actively managed stock mutual fund. That is a 40% gain from the reduction of silent partners.

Disadvantages of index funds

No Chance of Out-Performing

Since index funds aim to match market returns, both under and over-performance compared to the market is considered a "tracking error". For example, an inefficient index fund may generate a positive tracking error in a falling market by holding too much cash, which holds its value compared to the market.

According to The Vanguard Group, a well run S&P 500 index fund should have a tracking error of 5 basis points, but a Morningstar survey found an average of 38 basis points across all index funds

Investors should remember after all expenses and fees are subtracted their Rate of Return will not exactly be the market return of the index; however, it should be very close.

Owning a diversified stock index fund does not make an investor immune to systematic risk (e.g., a stock market bubble). When the US technology sector bubble burst in 2000, the general stock market dropped significantly, and, as measured by the S&P 500 index, has still not recovered (as of February 2007).

The Objective To Minimize Tracking Errors Causes Losses

The stated objective of index funds (in their prospectus) is to minimize the tracking error as they follow the designated index. Whenever an index changes, the fund is then faced with the prospect of selling all the stock that has been removed from the index, and purchasing the stock that was added to the index. The S&P 500 index has a typical turnover of between 1% and 9% per year.

As a result, the price of the stock that has been removed from the index tends to be driven down. The price of stock that has been added to the index tends to be driven up. These price changes tend to persist for 2-4 weeks. The index fund, however, has suffered permanent losses because they had to sell stock whose price was depressed, and buy stock whose price was inflated. All in all, however, these losses are small relative to an index fund's over-all advantage gained by its overall total low costs. Advanced hedge funds may hedge stocks to reduce the costs of turnover.

Diversification

Diversification refers to the number of different securities in a fund. A fund with more securities is said to be better diversified than a fund with smaller number of securities. Owning many securities reduces the impact of a single security performing very below average. A Wilshire 5000 index would be considered diversified, but a bio-tech ETF would not. 

Since some indices like the S&P 500, and FTSE 100 are dominated by large company stocks, an index fund may have a high percentage of the fund concentrated in a few large companies. This position represents a reduction of diversity and can lead to increased volatility and investment risk for an investor who seeks a diversified fund.

Asset allocation and achieving balance

Asset allocation is the process of determining the mix of stocks, bonds and other classes of investable assets to match the investor's risk capacity, which includes attitude towards risk, net income, net worth, knowledge about investing concepts, and time horizon. Index funds capture asset classes in a low cost and tax efficient manner and are used to design balanced portfolios.

A combination of various index mutual funds or ETF's could be used to implement a full range of investment policies from low risk to high risk.

Comparison of index fund versus index ETF

Index funds are priced at end of day (4:00 pm), while index ETFs have intra-day pricing (9:30 am - 4:00 pm).

Some index ETFs have lower expense ratio as compared to regular index funds. However, brokerage expenses of index ETFs should not be over-looked.

US Capital gains tax considerations

U.S. mutual funds are required by law to distribute realized capital gains to their shareholders. If a mutual fund sells a security for a gain, the capital gain is taxable for that year; similarly a realized capital loss can offset any other realized capital gains.

Scenario: An investor entered a mutual fund during the middle of the year and experienced an over-all loss for the next 6 months. The mutual fund itself sold securities for a gain for the year, therefore must declare a capital gains distribution. The IRS would require the investor to pay tax on the capital gains distribution, regardless of the over-all loss.

A small investor selling an ETF to another investor does not cause a redemption on ETF itself; therefore, ETFs are more immune to the effect of forced redemptions causing realized capital gains.

 


Investment Management


Investment management, the professional management of various securities (shares, bonds etc) and other assets (e.g. real estate), to meet specified investment goals for the benefit of the investors. Investors may be institutions (insurance companies, pension funds, corporations etc.) or private investors (both directly via investment contracts and more commonly via collective investment schemes eg. mutual funds) .

The term asset management is often used to refer to the investment management of collective investments, whilst the more generic fund management may refer to all forms of institutional investment as well as investment management for private investors. Investment managers who specialize in advisory or discretionary management on behalf of (normally wealthy) private investors may often refer to their services as wealth management or portfolio management often within the context of so-called "private banking". The provision of 'investment management services' includes elements of financial analysis, asset selection, stock selection, plan implementation and ongoing monitoring of investments.

Investment management is a large and important global industry in its own right responsible for caretaking of trillions of dollars, euros, pounds and yen. Coming under the remit of financial services many of the worlds largest companies are at least in part investment managers and employ millions of staff and create billions in revenue.

Fund manager (or investment advisor in the U.S.) refers to both a firm that provides investment management services and an individual(s) who directs 'fund management' decisions.

Industry scope

The business of investment management has several facets, including the employment of professional fund managers, research (of individual assets and asset classes), dealing, settlement, marketing, internal auditing, and the preparation of reports for clients. The largest financial fund managers are firms that exhibit all the complexity their size demands. Apart from the people who bring in the money (marketers) and the people who direct investment (the fund managers), there are compliance staff (to ensure accord with legislative and regulatory constraints), internal auditors of various kinds (to examine internal systems and controls), financial controllers (to account for the institutions' own money and costs), computer experts, and "back office" employees (to track and record transactions and fund valuations for up to thousands of clients per institution).

Key problems of running such businesses

Key problems include:

             revenue is directly linked to market valuations, so a major fall in asset prices causes a precipitous decline in revenues relative to costs;
above-average fund performance is difficult to sustain, and clients may not be patient during times of poor performance;
successful fund managers are expensive and may be headhunted by competitors;
above-average fund performance appears to be dependent on the unique skills of the fund manager; however, clients are loath to stake their investments on the ability of one or two men or women- they would rather see firm-wide success, attributable to a single philosophy and internal discipline;
evidence suggests that size of an investment firm correlates inversely with fund performance, i.e., the smaller the firm the better the chance of good performance;
analysts who generate above-average returns often become sufficiently wealthy that they eschew corporate employment in favor of managing their personal portfolios.

The most successful investment firms in the world have probably been those that have been separated physically and psychologically from banks and insurance companies. That is, the best performance and also the most dynamic business strategies (in this field) have generally come from independent investment management firms.

Representing the owners of shares

Institutions often control huge shareholdings. In most cases they are acting as agents (intermediaries between owners of the shares and the companies owned) rather than principals (direct owners). The owners of shares theoretically have great power to alter the companies they own...via the voting rights the shares carry and the consequent ability to pressure managements, and if necessary out-vote them at annual and other meetings.

In practice, the ultimate owners of shares often do not exercise the power they collectively hold (because the owners are many, each with small holdings); financial institutions (as agents) sometimes do. There is a general belief that shareholders - in this case, the institutions acting as agents - could and should exercise more active influence over the companies in which they hold shares (e.g., to hold managers to account, to ensure Boards effective functioning). Such action would add a pressure group to those (the regulators and the Board) overseeing management.

However there is the problem of how the institution should exercise this power. One way is for the institution to decide, the other is for the institution to poll its beneficiaries. Assuming that the institution polls should it then vote the entire holding as directed by the majority of votes cast, split vote (where this is allowed) according to the proportions of the vote or respect the abstainers and only vote the respondents holding.

The price signals generated by large active managers holding or not holding the stock contribute to management change.

Some institutions have been more vocal and active in pursuing such matters; for instance, some firms believe that there are investment advantages to accumulating substantial minority shareholdings (i.e, 10% or more) and putting pressure on management to implement significant changes in the business. In some cases, institutions with minority holdings work together to force management change. Perhaps more frequent is the sustained pressure that large institutions bring to bear on management teams through persuasive discourse and PR. On the other hand, some of the largest investment managers - such as Barclays Global Investors and Vanguard - advocate simply owning every company, reducing the incentive to influence management teams.

The national context in which shareholder representation considerations are set is variable and important. The USA is a litigious society and shareholders use the law as a lever to pressure management teams. In Japan it is traditional for shareholders to be low in the 'pecking order,' which often allows management and labor to ignore the rights of the ultimate owners. Whereas US firms generally cater to shareholders, Japanese businesses generally exhibit a stakeholder mentality, in which they seek consensus amongst all interested parties (against a background of strong unions and labour legislation).

Size of the global fund management industry

Assets of the global fund management industry increased for the third year running in 2006 to reach a record $55.0 trillion. This was up 10% on the previous year and 54% on 2002. Growth during the past three years has been due to an increase in capital inflows and strong performance of equity markets.

Pension assets totaled $20.6 trillion in 2005, with a further $16.6 trillion invested in insurance funds and $17.8 trillion in mutual funds. Merrill Lynch also estimates the value of private wealth at $33.3 trillion of which about a third was incorporated in other forms of conventional investment management.

The US was by far the largest source of funds under management in 2005 with 48% of the world total. It was followed by Japan with 11% and the UK with 7%. The Asia-Pacific region has shown the strongest growth in recent years. Countries such as China and India offer huge potential and many companies are showing an increased focus in this region.

10 largest asset management firms

Rank Company Assets under management
(US$million)
Country
1. Barclays Global Investors 1,400,491 UK
2. State Street Global Advisors 1,367,269 US
3. Fidelity Investments 1,299,400 US
4. Capital Group Companies 1,050,435 US
5. Legg Mason 891,400 US
6. The Vanguard Group 852,000 US
7. Allianz Global Investors 790,513 Germany
8. JPMorgan Asset Management 782,646 US
9. Mellon Financial Corporation 738,294 US
10. Deutsche Asset Management 723,366 Germany

Philosophy, process and people

The 3-P's (Philosophy, Process and People) are often used to describe the reasons why the manager is able to produce above average results.

             Philosophy refers to the over-arching beliefs of the investment organization. For example, does the manager buy growth or value shares (and why), does he believe in market timing (and on what evidence), does he rely on external research or does he employ a team of researchers. It is helpful if any and all of such fundamental beliefs are supported by proof-statements.
Process refers to the way in which the overall philosophy is implemented. For example, which universe of assets is explored before particular assets are chosen as suitable investments; how does the manager decide what to buy and when; how does the manager decide what to sell and when; who takes the decisions and are they taken by committee; what controls are in place to ensure that a rogue fund (one very different from others and from what is intended) cannot arise;
People refers to the staff, especially the fund managers. The question is who are they, how are they selected, how old are they, who reports to whom, how deep is the team (and do all the members understand the philosophy and process they are supposed to be using), and most important of all how long has the team been working together. This last question is vital because whatever performance record was presented at the outset of the relationship with the client may or may not relate to (have been produced by) a team that is still in place. If the team has changed greatly (high staff turnover), then arguably the performance record is completely unrelated to the existing team (of fund managers).

Asset allocation

The different asset classes are stocks, bonds, real-estate, derivatives, and commodities. The exercise of allocating funds among these assets (and among individual securities within each asset class) is for what investment management firms are paid. Asset classes exhibit different market dynamics, and different interaction effects; thus, the allocation of monies among asset classes will have a significant effect on the performance of the fund. Some research suggests that allocation among asset classes has more predictive power than the choice of individual holdings in determining portfolio return. Arguably, the skill of a successful investment manager resides in constructing the asset allocation, and separately the individual holdings, so as to outperform certain benchmarks (e.g., the peer group of competing funds, bond and stock indices).

Long-term returns

It is important to look at the evidence on the long-term returns to different assets, and to holding period returns (the returns that accrue on average over different lengths of investment). For example, over very long holding periods (eg. 10+ years) in most countries, equities have generated higher returns than bonds, and bonds have generated higher returns than cash. According to financial theory, this is because equities are riskier (more volatile) than bonds which are themselves more risky than cash.

Diversification

Against the background of the asset allocation, fund managers consider the degree of diversification that makes sense for a given client (given its risk preferences) and construct a list of planned holdings accordingly. The list will indicate what percentage of the fund should be invested in each particular stock or bond. The theory of portfolio diversification was originated by Markowitz and effective diversification requires management of the correlation between the asset returns and the liability returns, issues internal to the portfolio (individual holdings volatility), and cross-correlations between the returns.

Investment styles

There are a range of different styles of fund management that the institution can implement. For example, growth, value, market neutral, small capitalisation, indexed, etc. Each of these approaches has its distinctive features, adherents and, in any particular financial environment, distinctive risk characteristics. For example, there is evidence that growth styles (buying rapidly growing earnings) are especially effective when the companies able to generate such growth are scarce; conversely, when such growth is plentiful, then there is evidence that value styles tend to outperform the indices particularly successfully.

Performance measurement

Fund performance is the acid test of fund management, and in the institutional context accurate measurement is a necessity. For that purpose, institutions measure the performance of each fund (and usually for internal purposes components of each fund) under their management, and performance is also measured by external firms that specialise in performance measurement. The leading performance measurement firms (e.g. Frank Russell in the USA) compile aggregate industry data e.g showing how funds in general performed against given indices and peer groups over various time periods.

In a typical case (let us say an equity fund), then the calculation would be made (as far as the client is concerned) every quarter and would show a percentage change compared with the prior quarter (e.g. +4.6% total return in US dollars). This figure would be compared with other similar funds managed within the institution (for purposes of monitoring internal controls), with performance data for peer group funds, and with relevant indices (where available) or tailor-made performance benchmarks where appropriate. The specialist performance measurement firms calculate quartile and decile data and close attention would be paid to the (percentile) ranking of any fund.

Generally speaking it is probably appropriate for an investment firm to persuade its clients to assess performance over a longer periods (e.g. 3 to 5 years) to smooth out very short term fluctuations in performance and the influence of the business cycle. This can be difficult however and, industry wide, there is a serious pre-occupation with short-term numbers and the effect on the relationship with clients (and resultant business risks for the institutions).

An enduring problem is whether to measure before-tax or after-tax performance. After-tax represents the benefit to the investor, but investors tax positions vary. Before tax measurement can mislead, especially in regimens that tax realized capital gains (and not unrealized). A successful active manager, measured before tax, can thus produce a miserable after tax result. One possible solution is to report the after-tax position of some standard tax-payer.

Absolute versus relative performance

In the USA and the UK, two of the world's most sophisticated fund management markets, the tradition is for institutions to manage client money relative to benchmarks. For example, an institution believes it has done well if it has generated a return of 5% when the average manager has achieved 4%. In other markets however, e.g. Switzerland, the mentality is different and clients and fund managers focus on absolute return management, i.e. returns relative to cash (e.g. Swiss franc or Yen cash) where (performance) fees are payable only if the return exceeds some absolute figure (e.g. 10% per annum).

Risk-adjusted performance measurement

Performance measurement should not be reduced to the evaluation of fund returns alone, but must also integrate other fund elements that would be of interest to investors, such as the measure of risk taken. Several other aspects are also part of performance measurement: evaluating if managers have succeeded in reaching their objective, i.e. if their return was sufficiently high to reward the risks taken; how they compare to their peers; and finally whether the portfolio management results were due to luck or the manager’s skill. The need to answer all these questions has led to the development of more sophisticated performance measures, many of which originate in modern portfolio theory.

Modern portfolio theory established the quantitative link that exists between portfolio risk and return. The Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) developed by Sharpe (1964) highlighted the notion of rewarding risk and produced the first performance indicators, be they risk-adjusted ratios (Sharpe ratio, information ratio) or differential returns compared to benchmarks (alphas). The Sharpe ratio is the simplest and best known performance measure. It measures the return of a portfolio in excess of the risk-free rate, compared to the total risk of the portfolio. This measure is said to be absolute, as it does not refer to any benchmark, avoiding drawbacks related to a poor choice of benchmark. Meanwhile, it does not allow the separation of the performance of the market in which the portfolio is invested from that of the manager. The information ratio is a more general form of the Sharpe ratio in which the risk-free asset is replaced by a benchmark portfolio. This measure is relative, as it evaluates portfolio performance in reference to a benchmark, making the result strongly dependent on this benchmark choice.

Portfolio alpha is obtained by measuring the difference between the return of the portfolio and that of a benchmark portfolio. This measure appears to be the only reliable performance measure to evaluate active management. In fact, we have to distinguish between normal returns, provided by the fair reward for portfolio exposure to different risks, and obtained through passive management, from abnormal performance (or outperformance) due to the manager’s skill, whether through market timing or stock picking. The first component is related to allocation and style investment choices, which may not be under the sole control of the manager, and depends on the economic context, while the second component is an evaluation of the success of the manager’s decisions. Only the latter, measured by alpha, allows the evaluation of the manager’s true performance.

Portfolio normal return may be evaluated using factor models. The first model, proposed by Jensen (1968), relies on the CAPM and explains portfolio normal returns with the market index as the only factor. It quickly becomes clear, however, that one factor is not enough to explain the returns and that other factors have to be considered. Multi-factor models were developed as an alternative to the CAPM, allowing a better description of portfolio risks and an accurate evaluation of managers’ performance. For example, Fama and French (1993) have highlighted two important factors that characterize a company's risk in addition to market risk. These factors are the book-to-market ratio and the company's size as measured by its market capitalisation. Fama and French therefore proposed a three-factor model to describe portfolio normal returns. Carhart (1997) proposed to add momentum as a fourth factor to allow the persistence of the returns to be taken into account. Also of interest for performance measurement is Sharpe’s (1992) style analysis model, in which factors are style indices. This model allows a custom benchmark for each portfolio to be developed, using the linear combination of style indices that best replicate portfolio style allocation, and leads to an accurate evaluation of portfolio alpha.

Education or Certification

Increasingly, international business schools are incorporating the subject into their course outlines and some have formulated the title of 'Investment Management' conferred as specialist bachelors degrees. (i.e. Cass Business School, London). Due to global cross-recognition agreements with the 2 major accrediting agencies AACSB and ACBSP which accredit over 560 of the best business school programs, the Certification of MFP Master Financial Planner Professional from the American Academy of Financial Management is available to AACSB and ACBSP business school graduates with finance or financial services related concentrations. For people with aspirations to become an investment manager, further education may be needed beyond a B.S. in business, finance, or economics. A graduate degree or Chartered Financial Analyst certification may be required to move up in the ranks of investment management.

 


Money Fund


Money market mutual funds are restricted by quality, maturity and diversity guidelines. They must buy only the highest rated debt which matures in under 13 months, and the entire portfolio must have a weighted average maturity of 90 days or less. Money funds are only allowed to invest up to 5% in any one issuer, with the exception of government securities. No individual investor has lost money in a money fund, which keep a stable $1.00 NAV (net asset value). But it is possible for these funds to "break the buck" (decline to $0.99 or less).

Money market accounts

Banks in the United States offer savings and "money market deposit accounts", but these shouldn't be confused with money market mutual funds. These bank accounts offer higher yields than traditional passbook savings account, but often with higher minimum balance requirement and limited transactions. A money market account may refer to a money market mutual fund, a bank money market deposit account (MMDA) or a brokerage sweep free credit balance.

History

The first U.S. money fund - The Reserve Fund - was established in October 1971, enabling the small investor to invest in these instruments. Today, almost 2,000 money funds are in operation, with total assets of over $2.3 trillion dollars.

Institutional money fund

Institutional money funds are high minimum, low expense share classes which are marketed to corporations, governments, or fiduciaries. They are often set up so that money is swept to them overnight from a company's main operating accounts. Large national chains often have many accounts with banks all across the country, but electronically pull a majority of funds on deposit with them to a concentrated money market fund.

The largest institutional money fund is the JPMorgan Prime Money Market Fund, with almost $100 billion in assets as of Dec. 31, 2006. Among the largest companies offering institutional money funds are BlackRock, Federated, Columbia (Bank of America), Dreyfus, AIM and Evergreen (Wachovia).

Retail money funds

Retail money funds are offered primarily to individuals with moderate-sized accounts. Their primary use is as temporary holding funds at stockbrokerage firms. Retail money market funds hold roughly 40% of all money market fund assets.

Retail money funds invest in short-term debt, such as US Treasury bills and commercial paper, come in a few different breeds: government-only funds, non-government funds and tax-free funds. You will get a slightly higher yield in the non-government variety, which will invest in high-quality commercial paper and other instruments. Money funds for individuals are currently yielding just under 5.0%. However, instruments of the United States Government are usually exempt from state income taxes.

The largest money market mutual fund is Fidelity Investments' Cash Reserves, with assets exceeding $88 billion. The largest retail money fund providers include: Fidelity, Vanguard, and Schwab.

 


List of Mutual-Fund Families in the United States

The following is a limited list of mutual-fund families in the United States. A family of mutual funds is a group of funds that are marketed under one or more brand names, usually having the same distributor (the company which handles selling and redeeming shares of the fund in transactions with investors), and investment advisor (which is usually a corporate cousin of the distributor).

There are several hundred families of registered mutual funds in the United States, some with a single fund and others offering dozens. Many fund families are units of a larger financial services company such as an asset manager, bank, brokerages, or insurance company. Additionally, multiple funds in a family can be part of the same corporate structure; that is, one underlying corporation or business trust may divide itself into more than one fund, each of which issues shares separately.

AIM (AMVESCAP) Allianz American Century American Beacon
American Funds (The Capital Group Companies) Ameriprise Aquila Artisan
Atlas (Golden West Financial; as of February 2007 merging with Wachovia's Evergreen Investments) Ave Maria Baron Funds Barclays Global Investors
BB&T BlackRock BNY Hamilton (Bank of New York) Brazos
Calamos Calvert Cohen & Steers Columbia (Bank of America)
Credit Suisse Croft Delaware Investments Dodge & Cox
Dreyfus Evergreen Investments (Wachovia) Excelsior Federated
Fidelity Fifth Third First American First Eagle
Franklin Templeton (Franklin Resources) Gabelli Gartmore Goldman Sachs
Harbor Hotchkis and Wiley Invesco (AMVESCAP) Legg Mason
Lord Abbett Janus Lazard MainStay (New York Life Investment Management)
MetLife (CitiStreet) MFS Morgan Stanley Northern
Oakmark Oppenheimer Parnassus Pax World
PIMCO (Pacific Investment Management) Pioneer ProFunds Putnam
Rainier Royce Russell & Rydex Schroders
Schwab State Farm State Street TIAA-CREF
T. Rowe Price Touchstone USAA Value Line
Van Eck (Chubb) Vanguard Wells Fargo Advantage WM Group (Principal Financial Group)
Former families Constellation - merged with Touchstone Strong - merged with Wells Fargo  

 


Value Investing


Value investing is a style of investment strategy from the so-called "Graham & Dodd" School. Followers of this style, known as value investors, generally buy companies whose shares appear underpriced by some forms of fundamental analysis; these may include shares that are trading at, for example, high dividend yields or low price-to-earning or price-to-book ratios.

The main proponents of value investing, such as Benjamin Graham and Warren Buffett have argued that the essence of value investing is buying stocks at less than their intrinsic value. The discount of the market price to the intrinsic value is what Benjamin Graham called the "margin of safety". The intrinsic value is the discounted value of all future distributions.

However, the future distributions and the appropriate discount rate can only be assumptions. Warren Buffett has taken the value investing concept even further as his thinking has evolved to where for the last 25 years or so his focus has been on "finding an outstanding company at a sensible price" rather than generic companies at a bargain price.

Value investing was established by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, both professors at Columbia University and teachers of many famous investors. In Graham's book The Intelligent Investor, he advocated the important concept of margin of safety — first introduced in Security Analysis, a 1934 book he coauthored with David Dodd — which calls for a cautionary approach to investing. In terms of picking stocks, he recommended defensive investment in stocks trading not far from their tangible book value as a safeguard to adverse future developments often encountered in the stock market.

However, the concept of value (as well as "book value") has evolved significantly since the 1970s. Book value is meaningful only in some traditional stable industries where the value of an asset is well defined. When an industry is going through fast technological advancements, the value of its assets is not easily estimated. Sometimes, the production power of an asset can be significantly reduced due to competitive disruptive innovation and therefore its value can suffer permanent impairment. One good example of decreasing asset value is a personal computer. An example of where book value does not mean much is the service and retail sectors. One modern model of calculating value is the discounted cash flow model (DCF). The value of an asset is the sum of its future cash flows, discounted back to the present.

Value investing has proved to be a successful investment strategy. There are several ways to evaluate its success. One way is to examine the performance of simple value strategies, such as buying low PE ratio stocks, low price-to-cash-flow ratio stocks, or low price-to-book ratio stocks. Numerous academics have published studies investigating the effects of buying value stocks. These studies have consistently found that value stocks outperform growth stocks and the market as a whole.

Another way to examine the performance of value investing strategies is to examine the investing performance of well-known value investors. Simply examining the performance of the best known value investors would not be instructive, because investors do not become well known unless they are successful. This introduces a selection bias. A better way to investigate the performance of a group of value investors was suggested by Warren Buffett, in his May 17, 1984 speech that was published as The SuperInvestors of Graham and Doddsville. In this speech, Buffett examined the performance of those investors who worked at Graham-Newman Corporation and were thus most influenced by Benjamin Graham. Buffett's conclusion is identical to that of the academic research on simple value investing strategies--value investing is, on average, successful in the long run.

Well Known Value Investors

Benjamin Graham is regarded by many to be the father of value investing. Along with David Dodd, he wrote Security Analysis, first published in 1934. The most lasting contribution of this book to the field of security analysis was to emphasize the quantifiable aspects of security analysis (such as the evaluations of earnings and book value) while minimizing the importance of more qualitative factors such as the quality of a company's management. Graham later wrote The Intelligent Investor, a book that brought value investing to individual investors. Many of Graham's students, such as William J. Ruane, Irving Kahn, Walter Schloss, and Charles Brandes went on to become successful investors in their own right.

Graham's most famous student, however, was Warren Buffett, who ran successful investing partnerships before closing them in 1969 to focus on running Berkshire Hathaway. Charlie Munger joined Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway in the 1970s and has since worked as Vice Chairman of the company. Buffett has credited Munger with encouraging him to focus on long-term sustainable growth rather than on simply the valuation of current cash flows or assets.

Another famous value investor is John Templeton. He first achieved investing success by buying shares of a number of companies in the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929. He went on to become famous for investing in global equity markets.

Many successful value investors have gained fame recently. Joel Greenblatt is widely renowned for achieving annual returns at the hedge fund Gotham Capital of over 50% per year for 10 years from 1985 to 1995 before closing the fund and returning his investors' money. He is known for investing in special situations such as spin-offs, mergers, and divestitures. Edward Lampert is the chief of ESL Investments. He is best known for buying large stakes in Sears and Kmart and then merging the two companies.

 


Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)


Exchange-traded funds (or ETFs) are closed-ended collective investment schemes, traded as shares on most global stock exchanges. Typically, ETFs try to replicate a stock market index such as the S&P 500 (SPY) or Hang Seng Index, a market sector such as energy or technology, or a commodity such as gold or petroleum.

The legal structure and makeup varies around the world, however the major common features include:

             An exchange listing and ability to trade continually;
They are index-linked rather than actively managed;
Through dynamic and quantitative strategies, these can be dynamic rather than static indexing strategies
The ability to handle contributions and redemptions on an in-kind basis (typically in large blocks of shares only); and
Their 'value' (but not necessarily the price at which they trade—they can trade at a 'premium' or 'discount' to the 'underlying' assets' value) derives from the value of the 'underlying' assets comprising the fund.

These qualities provide ETFs with some significant advantages compared with traditional open-ended collective investments. The ETF structure allows for a diversified, low cost, low turnover index investment. This appeals to both institutional and retail investors both for long term holding and for selling short and hedging strategies.

Many current U.S. ETFs are based on some index; for example, SPDRs (Standard & Poor's Depository Receipts, or "Spiders") are based on the S&P 500 index. The index is generally determined by an independent company; for example, Spiders are run by State Street, while the S&P 500 is calculated by Standard & Poor's. Sometimes, a proprietary index is used.

Although the SEC states flatly that an ETF is "a type of investment company whose investment objective is to achieve the same return as a particular market index," this is no longer reality. The development of investment structures has progressed more quickly than the SEC's website.

A series of ETFs introduced by ProShares in 2006 - 2007 no longer follow the traditional definition. These funds, while correlating to the performance of the S&P 500, NASDAQ 100, DJIA, and S&P 400 Midcap, do not attempt to merely achieve the same return as the underlying index. These forty funds attempt to either achieve the daily performance of the designated benchmark times two, times negative one, or times negative two. They are ETFs with integrated leverage.

Another example of an innovative ETF that has broken the classic mold is the oil futures ETF: USO. This ETF tracks the performance of the Western Texas Intermediate light sweet crude. This is not a benchmark, but a traded commodity.

Rydex has taken a different direction and worked with S&P to create new, equal-weight benchmarks for their proprietary benchmarks. These "benchmarks" are rebalanced quarterly.

Creation and redemption of shares

Rather than the fund manager dealing directly with shareholders, institutional investors will create a portfolio of shares identical to the ETF and loan them to the fund manager. The portfolio is then incorporated in the ETF and ETF shares are created. Typically a creation unit consists of 50,000 shares.

ETF shares are sold and resold freely among large investors on the open market. If they purchase a sufficient amount of shares, the investor can exchange one full creation unit of ETF shares for the underlying shares of stock. The ETF creation unit is then destroyed and the underlying stocks are delivered out of the trust.

The attraction of this method of dealing for the ETF fund manager is that the institutional investors cover the dealing costs in purchasing the required shares to make up the portfolio. The reason they are willing to do this is the profit they can make by arbitrage based on the trading price of shares on the secondary market. Shares will trade at a premium to net asset value if demand is high and at a discount to net asset value if demand is low. These market drivers provide the efficiency for the ETF managers as the bulk buying power of the institutional investors allows them to avoid the expense of mass share creation and deletion.

Actively managed ETF

People have talked about 'actively managed ETF' for a long time, based somewhat on analogy with mutual funds. Others feel that such a thing is contradictory and nonsensical. ETFs are mainly exchanged 'in-kind'; holdings of ETFs are made available daily. This is felt to be a strength since no one knows more than anyone else about what the fund holds. If holdings were secret, it would be difficult to buy an ETF, since one would not know what shares to transfer; similarly, if one sells and gets the component shares, the holdings would not be secret. This seems to cause problems for an actively managed fund. Similarly, arbitrageurs are less likely to bid aggressively if they don't know what they are buying and selling. All of this is in contrast to mutual funds, which are allowed to keep holdings unknown for many months.

Lastly, some people think that owners of ETFs are more sophisticated, therefore more likely to be proponents of indexing (a passive strategy). So it's not immediately obvious who would buy actively managed ETFs.

Usage

Today ETFs present a viable alternative investment option to traditional open-ended mutual funds, especially open-ended index funds. There are many available ETFs that attempt to track all kind of indexes (such as large-cap, mid-cap, small-cap, etc), specialties (such as value and growth), industries, countries, precious metals and other commodities or commodity indices like GSCI; and more are being developed for the future.

History

The first ETF was introduced on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1990.

There are over one hundred ETFs traded on the American Stock Exchange, with more in other countries. ETFs have been gaining popularity ever since they were introduced on the American Stock Exchange in the mid 1990s, beginning with SPDR in 1993. ETFs are attractive to investors because they offer the diversification of mutual funds with the features of a stock. The popularity is likely to increase as new and more innovative ETFs are introduced.

The original ETFs were set up as competitors to open-ended index funds, and subsequent ETFs have usually followed in their footsteps: they typically have very low expense ratios compared to actively managed mutual funds. They also have a lower turnover ratio, which tends to be more tax-favorable.

ETF managers such as Barclays and State Street typically have the most money under management of all companies. This can raise corporate governance issues as often the largest owner of a listed company is a money management company - which simply owns that company as part of a portfolio of companies, designed to outperform other portfolios - and thus has little view or scrutiny of individual companies' internal issues.

ETFs vs. open-ended funds

An advantage of mutual funds is that they have lower costs if you only invest a little bit of money, or invest small monthly or quarterly amounts. Since ETFs are traded on the stock market, every trade has commission costs. Many mutual funds do not have such costs. If an investor likes to invest, say, $100 or $500 every month, mutual funds are likely to cost less.

There are many advantages to ETFs, and these advantages will likely increase over time. Most ETFs have a lower expense ratio than comparable mutual funds. Mutual funds can charge 1% to 3%, or more; index funds are generally lower, while ETFs are almost always in the 0.1% to 1% range. Over the long term, these cost differences can compound into a noticeable difference.

ETFs are more tax-efficient than mutual funds in some jurisdictions. In the U.S., whenever a mutual fund realizes a capital gain that is not balanced by a realized loss, the mutual fund must distribute the capital gains to their shareholders by the end of the quarter. This can happen when stocks are added to and removed from the index, or when a large number of shares are redeemed (such as during a panic). These gains are taxable to all shareholders, even those who reinvest the gains distributions in more shares of the fund. In contrast, ETFs are not redeemed by holders (instead, holders simply sell their ETF on the stock market, as they would a stock), so that investors generally only realize capital gains when they sell their own shares.

Perhaps the most important, although subtle, benefit of an ETF is the stock-like features offered. Since ETFs trade on the market, investors can carry out the same types of trades that they can with a stock. For instance, investors can sell short, use a limit order, use a stop-loss order, buy on margin, and invest as much or as little money as they wish (there is no minimum investment requirement). Also, many ETFs have the capability for options (puts and calls) to be written against them. Mutual funds do not offer those features.

For example, an investor in an open-ended fund can only purchase or sell at the end of the day at the mutual fund's closing price. This makes stop-loss orders much less useful for open-ended funds – if your broker even allows them. An ETF is continually priced throughout the day and therefore is not subject to this disadvantage, allowing the user to react to adverse or beneficial market condition on an intraday basis. This stock-like liquidity allows an investor to trade the ETF for cash throughout regular trading hours, and often after-hours on ECNs. ETF liquidity varies according to trading volume and liquidity of the underlying securities, but very liquid ETFs such as SPY, DIA, and QQQQ can be traded pre-market and after-hours with reasonably tight spreads. These characteristics can be important for investors concerned with liquidity risk.

A more subtle advantage is that ETFs, like closed-ended funds, are immune from some market timing problems that have plagued open-ended mutual funds. In these timing attacks, large investors trade in and out of an open ended fund quickly, exploiting minor variances in price in order to profit at the expense of the long-term unit holders. With an ETF (or closed-ended fund) such an operation is not possible--the underlying assets of the fund are not affected by its trading on the market.

Top U.S. and International ETFs

Major Issuers of ETFs

Barclays Global Investors
issues iShares
State Street Global Advisors
issues streetTRACKS.
Vanguard Group
issues VIPERs.
Rydex Financial issues Rydex ETFs. Merril Lynch issues HOLDERSs Powershares issues Powershares ETFs.
Deutsche Bank manages PowerShares DB commodity- and currency-based ETFs. Wisdomtree: issues Wisdomtree ETFs. Lyxor Asset Management: issues Lyxor ETFs.

Major Users of ETFs

Sarasota Capital Strategies: Registered Investment Advisor Evensky & Katz: Wealth Management Blue Ocean Portfolios
TurnerTrends ETF Investment Newsletter Many Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) operated firms

Top U.S. ETFs

The first, and most widely held (as of November 2004) US ETF is the Standard & Poor's Depositary Receipt, abbreviated SPDR. Shares of SPDR, called "spiders", are traded on the American Stock Exchange under the ticker SPY. Also popular and well known are the ETFs that track the NASDAQ-100 index ("qubes") and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ("diamonds").

Top 10 US-based ETFs, by assets under management:

SPDRs "spiders" (AMEX: SPY) iShares MSCI EAFE Index Fund (AMEX: EFA) NASDAQ 100 Trust Shares "qubes" (NASDAQ: QQQQ)
iShares S&P 500 Index Fund (NYSE: IVV) iShares MSCI Japan Index Fund (NYSE: EWJ) iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund (AMEX: EEM)
MidCap SPDRs (AMEX: MDY) DIAMONDS Trust, Series 1 (AMEX: DIA) iShares Russell 2000 Index Fund (AMEX: IWM)
  iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend Index Fund (NYSE: DVY)  

European ETFs

In the European Union many ETFs are traded as cross border UCITS III funds. For example, the UK iShares are Irish registered UCITS funds and trade on the London Stock Exchange. The European ETF market leader is INDEXCHANGE Investments AG, whose funds are listed in Germany on the Deutsche Börse. Indexchange is a subsidiary of HypoVereinsbank

iShares DJ STOXX 50  iShares DJ EURO STOXX 50 Indexchange DJ Euro Stoxx smex
Indexchange DJ Euro Stoxx 50 smex Indexchange DJ Stoxx 50 smex Lyxor ETF DJ Euro Stoxx 50
   Lyxor ETF MSCI Europe  

Swedish ETFs

In Sweden six ETFs exist as of November 2006, all provided by XACT Fonder:

XACT Bull - leveraged ETF tracking 1,5 times daily OMXS30 returns XACT Bear - like Bull, but inverse, Bear gains from market declines XACT OMXS30 - tracking 30 most traded stocks in Stockholm Stock Exchange
XACT OMXSB - tracking 80-100 most traded stocks in Stockholm Stock Exchange XACT F Euro - Fundamentally Weighted index, about 270 stocks in Eurozone XACT VINX30 - tracking 30 most traded stocks in the Nordic region (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark)

Finnish ETFs

SGL OMHXH25 - It is a market value weighted index that consists of the 25 most-traded stock classes. Provied by Seligson & Co Fund Management

Canadian ETFs

In Canada, Barclays Global Investors is the main ETF provider, offering ETFs under the iShares brand name:

XIC-- tracks the S&P/TSX Composite Total Return Index XIU -- tracks the S&P/TSX 60 Total Return Index XMD -- tracks the S&P/TSX MidCap Index
XEG -- tracks the S&P/TSX Capped Energy Index XIT -- tracks the S&P/TSX Capped Information Technology Index XGD -- tracks the S&P/TSX Capped Gold Index
XFN -- tracks the S&P/TSX Capped Financials Index XMA -- tracks the S&P/TSX Capped Materials Index XRE -- tracks the S&P/TSX Capped Real Estate Investment Trust Index
XTR -- tracks the S&P/TSX Income Trust Index XDV -- tracks the Dow Jones Canada Select Dividend Index XSB -- tracks the Scotia Short-term bond index
XBB -- tracks the Scotia Capital Bond Index XRB -- tracks the Scotia Capital Real Return Bond Index™ XSP -- currency hedged exposure to the USA S&P 500 index
  XIN -- currency hedged exposure to MSCI EAFE indices  

Claymore Investments also offers a series of ETFs available in Canada:

CBQ Claymore BRIC ETF -- tracks the BNY BRIC Select ADR Index (Brazil, Russia India and China) CDZ Claymore CDN Dividend & Income Achievers ETF -- tracks Mergent’s Canadian Dividend & Income Achievers Index. CLO Claymore Oil Sands Sector ETF -- tracks the Sustainable Oil Sands Sector Index
CLU Claymore US Fundamental ETF (Canadian Dollar Hedged) -- tracks the FTSE RAFI US 1000 Canadian Dollar Hedged Index CRQ Claymore Canadian Fundamental Index ETF -- tracks the FTSE RAFI Canada Index

Horizons Betapro also offers a series of ETFs available in Canada:

HXU the "HBP 60 Bull + ETF" -- tracks two times (200%) the daily performance of the S&P/TSX 60 Total Return Index HXD the "HBP 60 Bear + ETF" -- tracks two times (200%) the inverse (opposite) of the daily performance of the S&P/TSX 60 Total Return Index

Hong Kong ETFs

2800.HK TraHK -- tracks the Hang Seng Index 2801.HK China Tracker -- tracks the MSCI China Index 2819.HK ABF HK IDX ETF -- tracks the iBoxx ABF Hong Kong Index
2821.HK ABF Pan Asia Bond Index Fund -- tracks the iBoxx ABF Pan-Asia Index 2823.HK A50 China Tracker -- tracks the FTSE/Xinhua China A50 Index 2828.HK HS H-Share ETF -- tracks the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index
2833.HK HS HSI ETF -- tracks the Hang Seng Index 2836.HK SENSEXINDIA ETF -- tracks the BSE Sensitivity Index 2838.HK Hang Seng FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index ETF -- tracks the FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index

Top Republic of Korea ETFs

All ROK-based ETFs, as of June 2006:

KODEX 200 KOSEF KODEX Baedang
('Baedang' means 'dividend' in Korean)
KODEX KRX 100 KODEX Star Lyxor ETF MSCI Korea

Commodity ETFs

Commodity ETFs, also known as exchange-traded commodities (ETCs), track a specific commodity or a general commodity index, such as:

Gold exchange-traded funds (GETFs) Silver by iShares (NYSE: SLV) Petroleum by ETF Securities (LSE: OILB and LSE: OILW)
DBC Fund tracking the Deutsche Bank Liquid Commodity Index - Optimized Yield (DBLCI-OY) by Deutsche Bank (NYSE: DBC) Lyxor ETF Commodities CRB tracking the Reuters Jefferies CRB Index by Lyxor Asset Management (Euronext: VLCRB) EasyETF GSCI tracking the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index by Axa Investment Managers and BNP Paribas (FWB:GSCI and SWX:)

Since September 2006, numerous ETFs have been available on the London Stock Exchange. ETCs invest in real commodities (via future contracts or storing gold bars, for example) and not in commodity-producing companies, such as mining companies, though of course, mining-company ETFs also exist.

 


Treasury Securities


Treasury securities are government bonds issued by the United States Department of the Treasury through the Bureau of the Public Debt. They are the debt financing instruments of the U.S. Federal government, and are often referred to simply as Treasuries. There are four types of treasury securities: Treasury bills, Treasury notes, Treasury bonds, and Savings bonds. All of the Treasury securities (besides savings bonds) are very liquid and are heavily traded on the secondary market.

Types of Treasury Securities and Bonds

Treasury Bill

Treasury bills (or T-bills) mature in one year or less. They are like zero-coupon bonds in that they do not pay interest prior to maturity; instead they are sold at a discount of the par value to create a positive yield to maturity. Treasury bills are considered by many to be the most risk-free investment. Treasury Bills are commonly issued with maturity dates of 28 days (~1 month), 91 days (~3 months), and 182 days (~6 months). Treasury Bills are issued each Thursday after weekly auctions which are held on Monday at about noon. Purchase orders at TreasuryDirect must be entered before 11:30 on the Monday of the auction. Mature T-bills are also redeemed on each Thursday. Banks and financial institutions, especially primary dealers, are the largest purchasers of T-Bills. They are quoted for purchase and sale in the secondary market on an annualized percentage yield to maturity, or basis. With the advent of TreasuryDirect, individuals can now purchase T-Bills online and have funds withdrawn and deposited directly to their personal bank account and earn higher interest rates on their savings.

Treasury Note

Treasury notes (or T-Notes) mature in two to ten years. They have a coupon payment every six months, and are commonly issued with maturities dates of 2, 3, 5 or 10 years, for denominations from $1,000 to $1,000,000. T-Notes and T-Bonds are quoted on the secondary market at percentage of par in thirty-seconds of a point. Thus, for example, a quote of 95:07 on a note indicates that it is trading at a discount: $952.19 (i.e. 95 7/32%) for a $1,000 bond. (Several different notations may be used for bond price quotes. The example of 95 and 7/32 points may be written as 95:07, or 95-07, or 95'07, or decimalized as 95.21875.)

The 10-year Treasury note has become the security most frequently quoted when discussing the performance of the U.S. government-bond market and is used to convey the market's take on longer-term macroeconomic expectations. It is also important to the U.S. mortgage market, which uses the yield on the 10-year Treasury note as a benchmark for setting mortgage interest rates. (See the website http://www.treasurydirect.gov/)

Treasury Bond

Treasury bonds (or T-Bonds) mature in ten years or longer. They have coupon payment every six months like T-Notes, and are commonly issued with maturity dates of ten and thirty years. The secondary market is highly liquid, so the yield on the most recent T-Bond offering was commonly used as a proxy for long-term interest rates in general. This role has largely been taken over by the 10-year note, as the size and frequency of long-term bond issues declined significantly in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The U.S. Federal government stopped issuing the well-known 30-year Treasury bonds (often called long-bonds) on October 31, 2001. As the U.S. government used its budget surpluses to pay down the Federal debt in the late 1990s, the 10-year Treasury note began to replace the 30-year Treasury bond as the general, most-followed metric of the U.S. bond market. However, due to demand from pension funds and large, long-term institutional investors, along with a need to diversify the Treasury's liabilities - and also because the flatter yield curve meant that the opportunity cost of selling long-dated debt had dropped - the 30-year Treasury bond was re-introduced in February 2006 and is now issued quarterly. This will bring the U.S. in line with Japan and European governments issuing longer-dated maturities amid growing global demand from pension funds. Some countries, including France, U.S, and the United Kingdom have begun offering a 50-year bond, known as a Methuselah.

TIPS

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (or TIPS) are the inflation-indexed bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury. These securities were first issued in 1997. The principal is adjusted to the Consumer Price Index, the commonly used measure of inflation. The coupon rate is constant, but generates a different amount of interest when multiplied by the inflation-adjusted principal, thus protecting the holder against inflation. TIPS are currently offered in 5-year, 10-year and 20-year maturities. 30-year TIPS are no longer offered.

In addition to their value for a borrower who desires protection against inflation, TIPS can also be a useful information source for policy makers: the interest-rate differential between TIPS and conventional US Treasury bonds is what borrowers are willing to give up in order to avoid inflation risk. Therefore, when this differential changes that is usually taken to mean market expectations about inflation over the term of the bonds have changed. (Also see inflation derivatives).

The interest payments from these securities are taxed for federal income tax purposes in the year payments are received (payments are semi-annual, or every six months). The inflation adjustment credited to the bonds is also taxable each year. This tax treatment means that even though these bonds are intended to protect the holder from inflation, the cash flows generated by the bonds are actually inversely related to inflation until the bond matures. For example, during a period of no inflation, the cash flows will be exactly the same as for a normal bond, and the holder will receive the coupon payment minus the taxes on the coupon payment. During a period of high inflation, the holder will receive the same cash flow, and will not have to pay additional taxes on the inflation adjusted principal. The details of this tax treatment can have unexpected repercussions. (See tax on the inflation tax.)

T-Notes, T-Bonds and TIPS may be "stripped", separating the interest and principal portions of the security; these may then be sold separately (in units of $1000 face value) in the secondary market. Such securities are known as STRIPS ("Separate Trading of Registered Interest and Principal Securities" being an acronym); the name derives from the notional practice of literally tearing the interest coupons off (paper) securities.

The government does not directly issue STRIPS; they are formed by investment banks or brokerage firms, but the government does register STRIPS in its book-entry system. They cannot be bought through TreasuryDirect, but only through a broker.

Savings bonds are treasury securities for individual investors. US Savings Bonds are a registered, non-callable bond issued by the U.S. Government, and are backed by its full faith and credit. About one in six Americans - more than 50 million individuals - have together invested more than $200 billion in savings bonds. However, all savings bond investments together cover only a minor portion - less than 3% - of the U.S. public debt.

Savings bonds have traditionally been issued as paper, or definitive, bonds. In October 2002 the treasury also began to offer electronic, or book, savings bonds through its online service TreasuryDirect. As of 2004, about a fourth of new savings bond investments are now made electronically.

There is no active secondary market for Savings Bonds (but they can be transferred if the taxes due on the accrued interest are paid). After a one-year holding period they can be redeemed with the Treasury at any time, making them very liquid. Since they are registered securities, possession of a savings bond is of no legal consequence; ownership is determined by the names in the Treasury's records, which are also printed on paper savings bonds. Consequently, savings bonds can be replaced if lost or destroyed.

Savings bonds do not have coupons. Interest payments are compounded or accrued, which means they are added to the value of the bond and paid out only upon the bond's redemption. Unlike other treasury securities, income from these interest payments does not have to be reported to the IRS as income until the bonds are cashed, which makes savings bonds tax-deferred investments. Savings bonds redeemed prior to five years forfeit the most recent three months' interest.

The treasury first offered the predecessor to savings bonds, called "baby bonds," in March, 1935. The bonds were issued in denominations from $25 to $1,000. They were sold at 75 percent of face value, and accrued interest at the rate of 2.9% per year, compounded semiannually when held for their ten-year maturity period.

The series E bonds started in May, 1941 and played a major role in financing World War II. Series E bonds sold for almost forty years before they were withdrawn from sale on June 30, 1980.

EE Bond

Series EE savings bonds were introduced in 1980 to replace the series E bond. Paper EE bonds are sold at a 50 percent discount to their face value (from $50 to $10,000), and are guaranteed to be worth at least face value at "original maturity", which varies from 8 years to (presently) 20 years depending on issue date. Electronic EE bonds sold through TreasuryDirect are sold at face value ($25 and up); however, they are guaranteed to be worth at least double their face value at original maturity, so the difference is nominal. EE Bond interest rates vary depending on issue date, and for older bonds, yields on other Treasury securities. In May 2005, EE bonds were assigned a fixed rate at the time of purchase. The rate is currently 3.6% (as of November 2006). Series EE bonds issued in May 1997 or later earn interest every month, compounded twice per year, until they reach "final maturity" after 30 years; earlier EE bonds vary in interest accrual, but have the same 30-year final maturity. The interest on series EE bonds purchased since 1989 is exempt from federal and state taxes if it is used for education expenses, so long as the expenses are incurred in the same year as the bonds are redeemed.

HH Bond

Series HH savings bonds originally sold in denominations from $500 to $10,000. Series E and EE savings bonds were able to be exchanged for them. The Series HH bonds pay interest semiannually and mature in ten years. Federal income tax on these bonds can be deferred until the bonds are sold or mature. These bonds have not been available for purchase from the treasury, or via exchange of other bonds, since September 1, 2004.

I Bond

Series I Bonds were introduced in September 1998. They are sold at face value ($50 to $10,000 for paper bonds, $25 and up for electronic bonds) and grow in value with inflation-indexed earnings (similar to TIPS) for up to 30 years. I Bonds gain interest once a month, with interest being compounded twice per year. The composite interest rate has two components: a guaranteed fixed rate, which does not change over the 30 year period; and a semiannual inflation rate, which is adjusted twice per year. Even in times of deflation, the composite interest rate is guaranteed never to go below zero, meaning an I Bond's redemption value can never go down. The significant differences between series I bonds and TIPS are that I bonds retain all interest to compound inside the bond, are tax-deferred, and are protected from loss of value, while TIPS pay out a semiannual coupon, have a somewhat complex tax treatment, can lose value, and generally have a higher fixed rate.

Patriot Bonds

Since December 10, 2001, Series EE savings bonds purchased directly through financial institutions have been printed with the words "Patriot Bond" on them. The change in the background was made to capitalize on American reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Otherwise, the Patriot bond looks the same as the Series EE Bond, and Patriot bonds are used for financing general government debt, and not earmarked for any specific purpose. Bonds purchased from employers are not inscribed with the Patriot bond notation.

Zero-Percent Certificate of Indebtedness

The "Certificate of Indebtedness" is a Treasury security that does not earn any interest and has no fixed maturity. It can only be held in a TreasuryDirect account and bought or sold directly though the Treasury. Purchases and redemptions can be made at any time by transfers to or from a bank checking account, or by direct deposit of salary via payroll deduction. It is a place to store proceeds of coupon payments, matured securities, and small contributions until the time when the account holder is willing and able to buy a marketable Treasury security or a savings bond (for instance, to save up small amounts until the minimum purchase is reached). Many TreasuryDirect users have interest-bearing checking accounts and use them as their temporary holding place, but the C-of-I is more convenient in cases where the checking account does not earn interest.

If you want to reinvest a maturing TreasuryDirect T-Bill security, you should specify that the maturing value be placed in your C-of-I account. Then you can buy a new T-Bill that uses most of that money - the remainder can be transferred to a bank account. The redemption and the repurchase will occur on the same Thursday.

 


Interest


Interest is the "rent" paid to borrow money. The lender receives a compensation for foregoing other uses of their funds, including (for example) deferring their own consumption. The original amount lent is called the "principal," and the percentage of the principal which is paid/payable over a period of time is the "interest rate."

Types of interest

Simple interest: simple interest does not take compounding into account, and is determined by multiplying the principal by the interest rate (per period) by the number of time periods.

To calculate: Add up all the interest paid/payable in a period. Divide that by the principal at the beginning of the period. E.g. on $100 (principal):

             credit card debt where $1/day is charged. 1/100 = 1%/day.
corporate bond where $3 is due after six months, and another $3 is due at year end. (3+3)/100 = 6%/year.
certificate of deposit (GIC) where $6 is paid at year end. 6/100 = 6%/year.

There are three problems with simple interest.

             1. The time periods used for measurement can be different, making comparisons wrong. You cannot say the 1%/day credit card interest is 'equal' to a 365%/year GIC.
2. The time value of money means that $3 paid every six months hurts more than $6 paid only at year end. So you cannot 'equate' the 6% bond to the 6% GIC.
3. When interest is due, but not paid, it must be clear what happens. Does it remain 'interest payable', like the bond's $3 payment after six months? Or does it get added to the original principal, like the 1%/day on the credit card? Each time it is added to the principal it 'compounds'. The interest from that time forward is calculated on that (now larger) principal. The more frequent the compounding, the faster the principal grows, and the greater the interest amount is.

Compound interest: In order to solve these three problems, there is a convention that interest rates will be disclosed as if the term is one year and the compounding is yearly. The discussion at compound interest shows how to convert to and from the different measures of interest.

Real interest: This is calculated as (nominal interest rate) - (inflation). It attempts to measure the value of the interest in units of stable purchasing power. See the discussion at real interest rate.

Cumulative interest/return: This calculation is (FV/PV)-1. It ignores the 'per year' convention and assumes compounding at every payment date. It is usually used to compare two long term opportunities. Since the difference in rates gets magnified by time, so the speaker's point is more clearly made.

Other exceptions:

             US and Canadian T-Bills (short term Government debt) have a different convention. Their interest is calculated as (100-P)/P where 'P' is the price paid. Instead of normalizing it to a year, the interest is prorated by the number of days 't': (365/t)*100. (See also: Day count convention). The total calculation is ((100-P)/P)*((365/t)*100)
Corporate Bonds are most frequently payable twice yearly. The amount of interest paid is the simple interest disclosed divided by two (multiplied by the face value of debt).
Rule of 78: Some consumer loans calculate interest by the "Rule of 78" or "Sum of digits" method. Seventy-eight is the sum of the numbers 1 through 12, inclusive. And the practice enabled quick calculations of interest in the pre-computer days. In a loan with interest calculated per the Rule of 78, the total interest over the life of the loan is calculated as either simple or compound interest and amounts to the same as either of the above methods. Payments remain constant over the life of the loan; however, payments are allocated to interest in progressively smaller amounts. In a one-year loan, in the first month, 12/78 of all interest owed over the life of the loan is due; in the second month, 11/78; progressing to the twelfth month where only 1/78 of all interest is due. The practical effect of the Rule of 78 is to make early pay-offs of term loans more expensive. Approximately 3/4 of all interest due on a one year loan is collected by the sixth month, and pay-off of the principal then will cause the effective interest rate to be much higher than than the APY used to calculate the payments. The United States outlawed the use of "Rule of 78" interest in loans over five years in term. Certain other jurisdictions have outlawed application of the Rule of 78 in certain types of loans, particularly consumer loans.
Rule of 72: The "Rule of 72" is a "quick and dirty" method for finding out how fast money doubles for a given interest rate. For example, if you have an interest rate of 6%, it will take 72/6 or 12 years for your money to double, compounding at 6%. This is an approximation that starts to break down above 10%.

 

Market interest rates

There are markets for investments which include the money market, bond market, as well as retail financial institutions like banks, which set interest rates. Each specific debt takes into account the following factors in determining its interest rate:

Opportunity cost: This encompasses any other use to which the money could be put, including lending to others, investing elsewhere, holding cash (for safety, for example), and simply spending the funds.

Inflation: Since the lender is deferring his consumption, he will at a bare minimum, want to recover enough to pay the increased cost of goods due to inflation. Because future inflation is unknown, there are three tactics.

             Charge X% interest 'plus inflation'. Many governments issue 'real-return' or 'inflation indexed' bonds. The principal amount and the interest payments are continually increased by the rate of inflations. See the discussion at real interest rate.
Decide on the 'expected' inflation rate. This still leaves both parties exposed to the risk of 'unexpected' inflation.
Allow the interest rate to be periodically changed. While a 'fixed interest rate' remains the same throughout the life of the debt, 'variable' or 'floating' rates can be reset. There are derivative products that allow for hedging and swaps between the two.

Default: There is always the risk the borrower will become bankrupt, abscond or otherwise default on the loan. The risk premium attempts to measure the integrity of the borrower, the risk of his enterprise succeeding and the security of any collateral pledged. For example, loans to developing countries have higher risk premiums than those to the US government due to the difference in creditworthiness. An operating line of credit to a business will have a higher rate than a mortgage.

worthiness of businesses is measured by bond rating services and individual's credit scores by credit bureaus. The risks of an individual debt may have a large standard deviation of possibilities. The lender may want to cover his maximum risk. But lenders with portfolios of debt can lower the risk premium to cover just the most probable outcome.

Deferred consumption: Charging interest equal only to inflation will leave the lender with the same purchasing power, but he would prefer his own consumption NOW rather than later. There will be an interest premium of the delay. He may not want to consume, but instead would invest in another product. The possible return he could realize in competing investments will determine what interest he charges.

Length of time: Time has two effects.

             Shorter terms have less risk of default and inflation because the near future is easier to predict than events 20 year off.
Longer terms allow for investments in larger projects with higher eventual returns. Contrast this to the lender's preference for readily available cash for contingencies. This is why banks pay higher interest on non-redeemable GICs than on checking account balances.
Long-term interest rates fell in much of the developed world in the second half of 2006.

Other: Borrowers and lenders may face individual tax rates, transaction costs and foreign exchange rate risks. In a liquid market they cannot exert their personal preferences. It is the sum total of the participants who determine rates. The market for financial instruments has moved from the local, to the national, and is now international.

Interest rates in macroeconomics

Interest rates are the main determinant of investment on a macroeconomic scale. Broadly speaking, if interest rates increase, then investment decreases due to the higher cost of borrowing (all else being equal).

Interest rates are generally determined by the market, but government intervention - usually by a central bank- may strongly influence short-term interest rates, and is used as the main tool of monetary policy. The central bank offers to buy or sell money at the desired rate and, due to their control of certain tools (such as, in many countries, the ability to print money) they are able to influence overall market interest rates. Investment can change rapidly to changes in interest rates, affecting national income, and, through Okun's Law, changes in output affect unemployment.

The Federal Reserve (often referred to as 'The Fed') implements monetary policy largely by targeting the federal funds rate. This is the rate that banks charge each other for overnight loans of federal funds, which are the reserves held by banks at the Fed.

Open market operations are one tool within monetary policy implemented by the Federal Reserve to steer short-term interest rates. Using the power to buy and sell treasury securities, the Open Market Desk at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York can supply the market with dollars by purchasing T-notes, hence increasing the nation's money supply. By increasing the money supply or Aggregate Supply of Funding (ASF), interest rates will fall due to the excess of dollars banks will end up with in their reserves. Excess reserves may be lent in the Fed funds market to other banks, thus driving down rates.

Money and inflation

Loans, bonds, and shares have some of the characteristics of money and are included in the broad money supply. By setting i*n, the government institution can affect the markets to alter the total of loans, bonds and shares issued. Generally speaking, a higher real interest rate reduces the broad money supply.

Through the quantity theory of money, increases in the money supply lead to inflation. This means that interest rates can affect inflation in the future. The collection of interest was restricted by Jewish, Christian, Islam and other religions under laws of usury. This is still the case with Islam, which mandates no-interest Islamic finance.

Irving Fisher is largely responsible for shaping the modern concept of interest with his 1930 work, The Theory of Interest.

 


Time Value of Money


The 'time value of money' is the premise that an investor prefers to receive a payment of a fixed amount of money today, rather than an equal amount in the future, all else being equal. In other words, the present value of a certain amount of money a is greater than the present value of the right to receive the same amount of money time t in the future. This is because the amount a could be deposited in an interest-bearing bank account (or otherwise invested) from now to time t and yield interest. Consequently, lenders acting at arm's length demands interest payments for use of their capital.

Additional motivations for demanding interest are to compensate for the risk of borrower default and the risk of inflation (as well as some other more technical factors).

Some standard calculations based on the time value of money are:

             1. Present Value (PV) is the present value of an amount that will be received in the future. It answers such questions as, what is the value now of a zero-coupon bond that will pay $1,000 in 10 years?
2. Future Value (FV) is the future worth of a present amount. It answers such questions as, how much will be in my savings account at year end, which has $1,000 in it now, and pays 5% compounded yearly?
3. Present Value of an Annuity (PVA) is the present value of a stream of future payments. It determines the value of your mortgage today, if you can afford 20 years of payments of $xxx.
4. Future Value of an Annuity (FVA) is the future value of a stream of payments (annuity). If I save $2,000 per year and it earns 5% compounded yearly, what will be the total sum after 40 years?
5. A Perpetuity is an annuity that lasts "forever", or at least indefinitely. Since most financial instruments have a specified end, this concept applies to investments that generate some form of (relatively) consistent cash flow; an example may be a rental property. The value of a Certificate of Deposit (CD or GIC) with a fixed term will be determined assuming it is reinvested at its maturity.

Calculations

There are several basic equations that represent the equalities listed above. The variables can be input into a financial calculator, input at any suitable online calculator or extrapolated from online/printed tables of values.

For any of the equations below, the formulae may also be rearranged to determine one of the other unknowns. In the case of the standard annuity formula, however, there is no closed-form algebraic solution for the interest rate (although financial calculators can readily determine solutions).

These equations are frequently combined for particular uses. For example, bonds can be readily priced using these equations. A typical coupon bond is composed of two types of payments: a stream of coupon payments similar to an annuity, and a lump-sum return of capital at the end of the bond's maturity - that is, a future payment. The two formulas can be combined to provide a present value for the bond.

An important note is that the interest rate r is the interest rate for the relevant period. For an annuity that makes one payment per year, r will be the annual interest rate. For an income or payment stream with a different payment schedule, the interest rate must be converted into the relevant periodic interest rate, for example, a monthly rate for a mortgage with monthly payments (see the example below). See compound interest for details on converting between different periodic interest rates.

The rate of return in the calculations can be either the variable solved for, or a predefined variable that measures a discount rate, interest, inflation, rate of return, cost of equity, cost of debt or any number of other analogous concepts. The choice of the appropriate rate is critical to the exercise, and choice of the wrong discount rate can make the results meaningless. In most cases, however, the mathematics are similar, if not identical.

For calculations of annuities, you must decide whether the payments are made at the beginning of each time period, or (as in the formulas given) at the end. The calculator you use will allow the input somehow.

Formulas

Present value of a future sum
The present value formula is the core formula for the time value of money; each of the other formulae is derived from this formula. For example, the annuity formula is the sum of a series of present value calculations.

The present value (PV) formula has four variables, each of which can be solved for:
             1. PV the value of a dollar at time=0
2. FV the value of a dollar at time=n in the future
3. r equals the interest rate that would be compounded for each period of time
4. n is the period of time you want to equate.

 

Future value of a present sum
The future value (FV) formula is similar and uses the same variable.

Present value of an annuity

The present value of an annuity (PVA) formula has four variables, each of which can be solved for:
             1. PVA the value of the annuity at time=0
2. A the value of the individual payments in each compounding period
3. r equals the interest rate that would be compounded for each period of time
4. n is the number of payment periods.

 

Future value of an annuity

The future value of an annuity (FVA) formula has four variables, each of which can be solved for:
           1. FVA the value of the annuity at time=n
2. A the value of the individual payments in each compounding period
3. r equals the interest rate that would be compounded for each period of time
4. n is the number of payment periods.

 

Present value of a growing annuity
Similar to the formula for an annuity, the present value of a growing annuity (PVGA) uses the same variables with the addition of G as the rate of growth of the annuity (A is the annuity payment in the first period). This is a calculation that is rarely provided for on financial calculators.

Present value of a perpetuity
The PV of a perpetuity (a perpetual annuity) formula is simple division.

Present value of a growing perpetuity
When the perpetual annuity payment grows at a fixed rate (g) the value is theoretically determined according to the following formula. In practice, there are few securities with precisely these characteristics, and the application of this valuation approach is subject to various qualifications and modifications. Most importantly, it is rare to find a growing perpetual annuity with fixed rates of growth and true perpetual cash flow generation. Despite these qualifications, the general approach may be used in valuations of real estate, equities, and other assets.

Derivations

Annuity derivation

The formula for the future value of a regular stream of future payments (an annuity) is derived from a sum of the formula for future value of a single future payment, as below, where C is the payment amount and n the time period.

A single payment C at future time i has the following future value at future time n:

Summing over all payments from time 1 to time n, then reversing the order of terms
and substituting k = n - i:

Note that this is a geometric series, with the initial value being a = C, the multiplicative factor being 1 + r, with n terms. Applying the formula for geometric series, we get

The present value of the annuity (PVA) is obtained by simply dividing by (1 + r)n:

Another simple and intuitive way to derive the future value of an annuity is to consider an endowment, whose interest is paid as the annuity, and whose principal remains constant. The principal of this hypothetical endowment can be computed as that whose interest equals the annuity payment amount:

Note that no money enters or leaves the combined system of endowment principal + accumulated annuity payments, and thus the future value of this system can be computed simply via the future value formula:

Initially, before any payments, the present value of the system is just the endowment principal (PV = C / r). At the end, the future value is the endowment principal (which is the same) plus the future value of the total annuity payments (FV = C / r + FVA). Plugging this back into the equation:
Perpetuity derivation

Without showing the formal derivation here, the perpetuity formula is derived from the annuity formula. Specifically, the term:
can be seen to approach the value of 1 as n grows larger. At infinity, it is equal to 1, leaving as the only term remaining.

 

Example 1: Present value
One hundred euros to be paid 1 year from now, where the expected rate of return is 5% per year, is worth in today's money:

So the present value of €100 one year from now at 5% is €95.23.

 

Example 2: Present value of an Annuity - solving for the payment amount
Consider a 30 year mortgage where the principal amount P is $200,000 and the annual interest rate is 6%.
The number of monthly payments is

and the monthly interest rate is

The annuity formula for (A/P) calculates the monthly payment:

= $200,000 X 0.006 = $1200 per month

 

Example 3: Solving for the period needed to double money
Consider a deposit of $100 placed at 10% (annual). How many years are needed for the value of the deposit to double to $200?

Using the algebraic identity that if:

The present value formula can be rearranged such that:

This same method can be used to determine the length of time needed to increase a deposit to any particular sum, as long as the interest rate is known. For the period of time needed to double an investment, the Rule of 72 is a useful shortcut that gives a reasonable approximation of the time period needed.

 

Example 4: What return is needed to double money?
Similarly, the present value formula can be rearranged to determine what rate of return is needed to accumulate a given amount from an investment. For example, $100 is invested today and $200 return is expected in five years; what rate of return (interest rate) does this represent?

The present value formula restated in terms of the interest rate is:

 

Example 5: Calculate the value of a regular savings deposit in the future.
To calculate the future value of a stream of savings deposit in the future requires two steps, or, alternatively, combining the two steps into one large formula. First, calculate the present value of a stream of deposits of $1,000 every year for 20 years earning 7% interest:

This does not sound like very much, but remember - this is future money discounted back to its value today; it is understandably lower. To calculate the future value (at the end of the twenty-year period):

These steps can be combined into a single formula:

 

Example 6: Price/earnings (P/E) ratio
It is often mentioned that perpetuities, or securities with an indefinitely long maturity, are rare or unrealistic, and particularly those with a growing payment. In fact, many types of assets have characteristics that are similar to perpetuities. Examples might include income-oriented real estate, preferred shares, and even most forms of publicly-traded stocks. Frequently, the terminology may be slightly different, but are based on the fundamentals of time value of money calculations. The application of this methodology is subject to various qualifications or modifications, such as the Gordon growth model.

For example, stocks are commonly noted as trading at a certain price/earnings ratio. The P/E ratio is easily recognized as a variation on the perpetuity or growing perpetuity formulae - save that the P/E ratio is usually cited as the inverse of the "rate" in the perpetuity formula.

If we substitute for the time being: the price of the stock for the present value; the earnings per share of the stock for the cash annuity; and, the discount rate of the stock for the interest rate, we can see that:

And in fact, the P/E ratio is analogous to the inverse of the interest rate (or discount rate).

Of course, stocks may have increasing earnings. The formulation above does not allow for growth in earnings, but to incorporate growth, the formula can be restated as follows:

If we wish to determine the implied rate of growth (if we are given the discount rate), we may solve for g:

 

Time value of money formulae with continuous compounding

Rates are sometimes converted into the continuous compound interest rate equivalent because the continuous equivalent is more convenient (for example, more easily differentiated). Each of the formulae above may be restated in their continuous equivalents. For example, the present value of a future payment can be restated in the following way, where e is the base of the natural logarithm:

See below for formulaic equivalents of the time value of money formulae with continuous compounding.

 

Present value of an annuity

 

Present value of a perpetuity

 

Present value of a growing annuity

 

Present value of a growing perpetuity

 


Bonds


In finance, a bond is a debt security, in which the issuer owes the holders a debt and is obliged to repay the principal and interest (the coupon) at a later date, termed maturity. Other stipulations may also be attached to the bond issue, such as the obligation for the issuer to provide certain information to the bond holder, or limitations on the behavior of the issuer. Bonds are generally issued for a fixed term (the maturity) longer than ten years. U.S Treasury securities issued debt with life of ten years or more is a bond. New debt between one year and ten years is a note, and new debt less than a year is a bill.

A bond is simply a loan, but in the form of a security, although terminology used is rather different. The issuer is equivalent to the borrower, the bond holder to the lender, and the coupon to the interest. Bonds enable the issuer to finance long-term investments with external funds. Debt securities with a maturity shorter than one year are typically bills. Certificates of deposit (CDs) or commercial paper are considered money market instruments.

Traditionally, the U.S. Treasury uses the word bond only for their issues with a maturity longer than ten years, and calls issues between one and ten year notes. Elsewhere in the market this distinction has disappeared, and both bonds and notes are used irrespective of the maturity. Market participants normally use bonds for large issues offered to a wide public, and notes for smaller issues originally sold to a limited number of investors. There are no clear demarcations. There are also "bills" which usually denote fixed income securities with three years or less, from the issue date, to maturity. Bonds have the highest risk, notes are the second highest risk, and bills have the least risk. This is due to a statistical measure called duration, where lower durations have less risk, and are associated with shorter term obligations.

Bonds and stocks are both securities, but the difference is that stock holders own a part of the issuing company (have an equity stake), whereas bond holders are in essence lenders to the issuer. Also bonds usually have a defined term, or maturity, after which the bond is redeemed whereas stocks may be outstanding indefinitely. An exception is a consol bond, which is a perpetuity (i.e. bond with no maturity).

Issuers

The range of issuers of bonds is very large. Almost any organization could issue bonds, but the underwriting and legal costs can be prohibitive. Regulations to issue bonds are very strict. Issuers are often classified as follows:

             Supranational agencies, such as the European Investment Bank or the Asian Development Bank issue supranational bonds.
National Governments issue government bonds in their own currency. They also issue sovereign bonds in foreign currencies.
Sub-sovereign, provincial, state or local authorities (municipalities). In the U.S. state and local government bonds are known as municipal bonds.
Government sponsored entities. In the U.S., examples include the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), and the Federal Home Loan Banks. The bonds of these entities are known as agency bonds, or agencies.
Companies (corporates) issue corporate bonds.
Special Purpose Vehicles are companies set up for the sole purpose of containing assets against which bonds are issued, often called asset-backed securities.

Issuing bonds

Bonds are issued by public authorities, credit institutions, companies and supranational institutions in the primary markets. The most common process of issuing bonds is through underwriting. In underwriting, one or more securities firms or banks, forming a syndicate, buy an entire issue of bonds from an issuer and re-sell them to investors. Government bonds are typically auctioned.

Features of bonds

The most important features of a bond are:

             nominal, principal or face amount—the amount over which the issuer pays interest, and which has to be repaid at the end.
issue price—the price at which investors buy the bonds when they are first issued. The net proceeds that the issuer receives are calculated as the issue price, less issuance fees, times the nominal amount.
short term (bills): maturities up to one year;
medium term (notes): maturities between one and ten years;
long term (bonds): maturities greater than ten years.
maturity date—the date on which the issuer has to repay the nominal amount. As long as all payments have been made, the issuer has no more obligations to the bond holders after the maturity date. The length of time until the maturity date is often referred to as the term or maturity of a bond. The maturity can be any length of time, although debt securities with a term of less than one year are generally designated money market instruments rather than bonds. Most bonds have a term of up to thirty years. Some bonds have been issued with maturities of up to one hundred years, and some even do not mature at all. In early 2005, a market developed in euros for bonds with a maturity of fifty years. In the market for U.S. Treasury securities, there are three groups of bond maturities:
coupon—the interest rate that the issuer pays to the bond holders. Usually this rate is fixed throughout the life of the bond. It can also vary with a money market index, such as LIBOR, or it can be even more exotic. The name coupon originates from the fact that in the past, physical bonds were issued which had coupons attached to them. On coupon dates the bond holder would give the coupon to a bank in exchange for the interest payment.
coupon dates—the dates on which the issuer pays the coupon to the bond holders. In the U.S., most bonds are semi-annual, which means that they pay a coupon every six months. In Europe, most bonds are annual and pay only one coupon a year.
indenture or covenants—a document specifying the rights of bond holders. In the U.S., federal and state securities and commercial laws apply to the enforcement of those documents, which are construed by courts as contracts. The terms may be changed only with great difficulty while the bonds are outstanding, with amendments to the governing document generally requiring approval by a majority (or super-majority) vote of the bond holders.
Optionality: a bond may contain an embedded option; that is, it grants option like features to the buyer or issuer:
callability—Some bonds give the issuer the right to repay the bond before the maturity date on the call dates; see call option. These bonds are referred to as callable bonds. Most callable bonds allow the issuer to repay the bond at par. With some bonds, the issuer has to pay a premium, the so called call premium. This is mainly the case for high-yield bonds. These have very strict covenants, restricting the issuer in its operations. To be free from these covenants, the issuer can repay the bonds early, but only at a high cost.
puttability—Some bonds give the bond holder the right to force the issuer to repay the bond before the maturity date on the put dates; see put option.
call dates and put dates—the dates on which callable and puttable bonds can be redeemed early. There are four main categories.
1. A Bermudan callable has several call dates, usually coinciding with coupon dates.
2. A European callable has only one call date. This is a special case of a Bermudan callable.
3. An American callable can be called at any time until the maturity date.
4. A death put is an optional redemption feature on a debt instrument allowing the beneficiary of the estate of the deceased to put (sell) the bond (back to the issuer) in the event of the beneficiary's death or legal incapacitation. Also known as a "survivor's option".
An IMRU callable can only be purchased by buyers of the highest quality (in financial terms) and remains the highest quality and hardest to obtain bond on the market. Originally conceived by financial guru M. Last with the help of A. Thein and T. Gardner.
sinking fund provision of the corporate bond indenture requires a certain portion of the issue to be retired periodically. The entire bond issue can be liquidated by the maturity date. If that is not the case, then the remainder is called balloon maturity. Issuers may either pay to trustees, which in turn call randomly selected bonds in the issue, or, alternatively, purchase bonds in open market, then return them to trustees.
convertible bond lets a bondholder exchange a bond to a number of shares of the issuer's common stock.
exchangeable bond allows for exchange to shares of a corporation other than the issuer.
Types of bonds
Fixed rate bonds have a coupon that remains constant throughout the life of the bond.
Floating rate notes (FRN's) have a coupon that is linked to a money market index, such as LIBOR or Euribor, for example three months USD LIBOR +0.20%. The coupon is then reset periodically, normally every three months.
High yield bonds are bonds that are rated below investment grade by the credit rating agencies. As these bonds are relatively risky, investors expect to earn a higher yield. These bonds are also called junk bonds.
Zero coupon bonds do not pay any interest. They trade at a substantial discount from par value. The bond holder receives the full principal amount as well as value that has accrued on the redemption date. An example of zero coupon bonds are Series E savings bonds issued by the U.S. government. Zero coupon bonds may be created from fixed rate bonds by financial institutions by "stripping off" the coupons. In other words, the coupons are separated from the final principal payment of the bond and traded independently.
Inflation linked bonds, in which the principal amount is indexed to inflation. The interest rate is lower than for fixed rate bonds with a comparable maturity. However, as the principal amount grows, the payments increase with inflation. The government of the United Kingdom was the first to issue inflation linked Gilts in the 1980s. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) and I-bonds are examples of inflation linked bonds issued by the U.S. government.
Other indexed bonds, for example Equity Linked Notes and bonds indexed on a business indicator (income, added value) or on a country GDP...
Asset-backed securities are bonds whose interest and principal payments are backed by underlying cash flows from other assets. Examples of asset-backed securities are mortgage-backed securities (MBS's), collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs) and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).
Subordinated bonds are those that have a lower priority than other bonds of the issuer in case of liquidation. In case of bankruptcy, there is a hierarchy of creditors. First the liquidator is paid, then government taxes, etc. The first bond holders in line to be paid are those holding what is called senior bonds. After they have been paid, the subordinated bond holders are paid. As a result, the risk is higher. Therefore, subordinated bonds usually have a lower credit rating than senior bonds. The main examples of subordinated bonds can be found in bonds issued by banks, and asset-backed securities. The latter are often issued in tranches. The senior tranches get paid back first, the subordinated tranches later.
Perpetual bonds are also often called perpetuities. They have no maturity date. The most famous of these are the UK Consols, which are also known as Treasury Annuities or Undated Treasuries. Some of these were issued back in 1888 and still trade today. Some ultra long-term bonds (sometimes a bond can last centuries: West Shore Railroad issued a bond which matures in 2361 (i.e. 24th century)) are sometimes viewed as perpetuities from a financial point of view, with the current value of principal near zero.
Bearer bond is an official certificate issued without a named holder. In other words, the person who has the paper certificate can claim the value of the bond. Often they are registered by a number to prevent counterfeiting, but may be traded like cash. Bearer bonds are very risky because they can be lost or stolen. Especially after federal income tax began in the United States, bearer bonds were seen as an opportunity to conceal income or assets. U.S. corporations stopped issuing bearer bonds in the 1960s, the U.S. Treasury stopped in 1982, and state and local tax-exempt bearer bonds were prohibited in 1983.
Registered bond is a bond whose ownership (and any subsequent purchaser) is recorded by the issuer, or by a transfer agent. It is the alternative to a Bearer bond. Interest payments, and the principal upon maturity, are sent to the registered owner.
Municipal bond is a bond issued by a state, U.S. Territory, city, local government, or their agencies. Interest income received by holders of municipal bonds is often exempt from the federal income tax and from the income tax of the state in which they are issued, although municipal bonds issued for certain purposes may not be tax exempt.
Book-entry bond is a bond that does not have a paper certificate. As physically processing paper bonds and interest coupons became more expensive, issuers (and banks that used to collect coupon interest for depositors) have tried to discourage their use. Some book-entry bond issues do not offer the option of a paper certificate, even to investors who prefer them.
Lottery bond is a bond issued by a state, usually a European state. Interest is paid like a traditional fixed rate bond, but the issuer will redeem randomly selected individual bonds within the issue according to a schedule. Some of these redemptions will be for a higher value than the face value of the bond.
Bonds issued by foreign entities
Some companies, banks, governments, and other sovereign entities may decide to issue bonds in foreign currencies as it may appear to be more stable and predictable than their domestic currency. Some foreign issuer bonds are called by their nicknames, such as the "Samurai bond", but this is ironic in that the issuer is neither a samurai nor even Japanese.
Eurodollar bond is a bond issued by a non-European entity in the European market in Euro-dollar denominations.
Samurai bond is a bond issued by a non-Japanese entity in the Japanese market in Japanese Yen denominations.
Yankee bond is a bond issued by a non-US entity in the US market in US Dollar denominations

Trading and valuing bonds

The interest rate that the issuer of a bond must pay is influenced by a variety of factors, such as current market interest rates, the length of the term and the credit worthiness of the issuer.

These factors are likely to change over time, so the market value of a bond can vary after it is issued. Because of these differences in market value, bonds are priced in terms of percentage of par value. Bonds are not necessarily issued at par (100% of face value, corresponding to a price of 100), but all bond prices converge to par when they reach maturity. At other times, prices can either rise (bond is priced at greater than 100), which is called trading at a premium, or fall (bond is priced at less than 100), which is called trading at a discount. Most government bonds are denominated in units of $1000, if in the United States, or in units of £100, if in the United Kingdom. Hence, a deep discount US bond, selling at a price of 75.26, indicates a selling price of $752.60 per bond sold. (Often, bond prices are quoted in points and thirty-seconds of a point, rather than in decimal form.) Some short-term bonds, such as the U.S. T-Bill, are always issued at a discount, and pay par amount at maturity rather than paying coupons. This is called a discount bond.

The market price of a bond is the present value of all future interest and principal payments of the bond discounted at the bond's yield, or rate of return. The yield represents the current market interest rate for bonds with similar characteristics. The yield and price of a bond are inversely related so that when market interest rates rise, bond prices generally fall and vice versa.

The market price of a bond may include the accrued interest since the last coupon date. (Some bond markets include accrued interest in the trading price and others add it on explicitly after trading.) The price including accrued interest is known as the "flat" or "dirty price". (See also Accrual bond.) The price excluding accrued interest is sometimes known as the Clean price.

The interest rate adjusted for the current price of the bond is called the "current yield" or "earnings yield" (this is the nominal yield multiplied by the par value and divided by the price).

Taking into account the expected capital gain or loss (the difference between the current price and the redemption value) gives the "redemption yield": roughly the current yield plus the capital gain (negative for loss) per year until redemption.

The relationship between yield and maturity for otherwise identical bonds is called a yield curve.

Bonds markets, unlike stock or share markets, often do not have a centralized exchange or trading system. Rather, in most developed bond markets such as the U.S., Japan and western Europe, bonds trade in decentralized, dealer-based over-the-counter markets. In such a market, market liquidity is provided by dealers and other market participants committing risk capital to trading activity. In the bond market, when an investor buys or sells a bond, the counterparty to the trade is almost always a bank or securities firm acting as a dealer. In some cases, when a dealer buys a bond from an investor, the dealer carries the bond "in inventory." The dealer's position is then subject to risks of price fluctuation. In other cases, the dealer immediately resells the bond to another investor.

Bond markets also differ from stock markets in that investors generally do not pay brokerage commissions to dealers with whom they buy or sell bonds. Rather, dealers earn revenue for trading with their investor customers by means of the spread, or difference, between the price at which the dealer buys a bond from one investor--the "bid" price--and the price at which he or she sells the same bond to another investor--the "ask" or "offer" price. The bid/offer spread represents the total transaction cost associated with transferring a bond from one investor to another.

Investing in bonds

Bonds are bought and traded mostly by institutions like pension funds, insurance companies and banks. Most individuals who want to own bonds do so through bond funds. Still, in the U.S., nearly ten percent of all bonds outstanding are held directly by households.

As a rule, bond markets rise (while yields fall) when stock markets fall. Thus bonds are generally viewed as safer investments than stocks, but this perception is only partially correct. Bonds do suffer from less day-to-day volatility than stocks, and bonds' interest payments are higher than dividend payments that the same company would generally choose to pay to its stockholders. Bonds are liquid — it is fairly easy to sell one's bond investments, though not nearly as easy as it is to sell stocks — and the certainty of a fixed interest payment twice per year is attractive. Bondholders also enjoy a measure of legal protection: under the law of most countries, if a company goes bankrupt, its bondholders will often receive some money back, whereas the company's stock often ends up valueless. However, bonds can be risky:

Fixed rate bonds are subject to interest rate risk, meaning their market price will decrease in value when the generally prevailing interest rate rises. Since the payments are fixed, a decrease in the market price of the bond means an increase in its yield. When the market's interest rates rise, then the market price for bonds will fall, reflecting investors' improved ability to get a good interest rate for their money elsewhere — perhaps by purchasing a newly issued bond that already features the newly higher interest rate. This drop in the bond's market price does not affect the interest payments to the bondholder at all, so long-term investors need not worry about price swings in their bonds.

However, price changes in a bond immediately affect mutual funds that hold these bonds. Many institutional investors have to "mark to market" their trading books at the end of every day. If the value of the bonds held in a trading portfolio has fallen over the day, the "mark to market" value of the portfolio may also have fallen. This can be damaging for professional investors such as banks, insurance companies, pension funds and asset managers. If there is any chance a holder of individual bonds may need to sell his bonds and "cash out" for some reason, interest rate risk could become a real problem. (Conversely, bonds' market prices would increase if the prevailing interest rate were to drop, as it did from 2001 through 2003.) One way to quantify the interest rate risk on a bond is in terms of its duration. Efforts to control this risk are called immunization or hedging.

Bond prices can become volatile if one of the credit rating agencies like Standard & Poor's or Moody's upgrades or downgrades the credit rating of the issuer. A downgrade can cause the market price of the bond to fall. As with interest rate risk, this risk does not affect the bond's interest payments, but puts at risk the market price, which affects mutual funds holding these bonds, and holders of individual bonds who may have to sell them.

A company's bondholders may lose much or all their money if the company goes bankrupt. Under the laws of the United States and many other countries, bondholders are in line to receive the proceeds of the sale of the assets of a liquidated company ahead of some other creditors. Bank lenders, deposit holders (in the case of a deposit taking institution such as a bank) and trade creditors may take precedence.

There is no guarantee of how much money will remain to repay bondholders. As an example, after an accounting scandal and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the giant telecommunications company Worldcom, in 2004 its bondholders ended up being paid 35.7 cents on the dollar. In a bankruptcy involving reorganization or recapitalization, as opposed to liquidation, bondholders may end up having the value of their bonds reduced, often through an exchange for a smaller number of newly issued bonds.

Some bonds are callable, meaning that even though the company has agreed to make payments plus interest towards the debt for a certain period of time, the company can choose to pay off the bond early. This creates reinvestment risk, meaning the investor is forced to find a new place for his money, and the investor might not be able to find as good a deal, especially because this usually happens when interest rates are falling.

Bond indices

A number of bond indices exist for the purposes of managing portfolios and measuring performance, similar to the S&P 500 or Russell Indexes for stocks. The most common American benchmarks are the Lehman Aggregate, Citigroup BIG and Merrill Lynch Domestic Master. Most indices are parts of families of broader indices that can be used to measure global bond portfolios, or may be further subdivided by maturity and/or sector for managing specialized portfolios.

 


 

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