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According to Investopedia, “Geographical Diversification” is the practice of diversifying an investment portfolio across different geographic regions so as to reduce the overall risk and improve returns on the portfolio.

As with diversification in general, geographical diversification is based on the premise that financial markets in different parts of the world may not be highly correlated with one another. For example, if the US and European stock markets are declining because their economies are in a recession, an investor may choose to allocate part of his portfolio to emerging economies with higher growth rates such as China, Brazil and India.

There are two major advantages in diversifying one’s investment portfolio based on geography:

  • Taking Advantage of Opportunities in other Strong Economies:

A significant benefit to a geographic diversification of assets has to do with the way it allows you to mitigate risk by taking advantage of stable economies elsewhere in the world. It’s no secret that some economies are struggling to recover from the trying economic times of the last few years. Other countries, however, have seen higher growth rates due to a variety of factors. International portfolios have been shown, in general, to outperform domestic ones, this is because when there are so many markets to choose from, it is unlikely that the same country will ever repeatedly achieve the highest level of growth. With improved access to international markets and investment instruments such as mutual funds bringing down the costs, an additional option to further diversify has been to buy in international markets.

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(Source: Bloomberg, Kotak MF. As of 31st Jan, 2018)

The above returns data chart clearly shows that while the Indian Equity Markets have performed significantly in the last year, there were opportunities elsewhere which proved even better. Diversification into such economies can therefore result in better yielding portfolios.

  • Balancing out the risks:

While chasing better returns might definitely be one aspect of any investment portfolio, it is also crucial to understand how any strategy helps in mitigating the associated risks that are part of every investment decision. Geographic diversification provides a much needed balance that all investors strive for. If one of your assets is located in a part of the world that is or could be vulnerable, the investments in other geographies could compensate or buffer any unexpected losses. This is because despite the impact of globalisation, geographies and economies can still have limited correlation between them, and over time international markets could perform very differently to domestic markets. Following is a chart that shows how various sectors form part of some regions around the world, in % of total market capitalization:

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(Source: credit suisse global investment returns yearbook 2015)

As you may notice, different regions give different weightages to every sector. Thus by accessing these regions, you can in essence, reduce investment risks in individual sectors and therefore your entire portfolio as a whole.

Since the cycles that drive business and investment are experienced at different times in different countries, foreign markets seldom move in perfect tandem with each other. Losses in one market may be offset by gains in another. Geographical diversification significantly reduces the overall level of volatility and exposure to external factors. For an investor, theoretically this would mean that the more diversified your assets, the safer is your money. However it is true that a significant black swan event, such as the financial crisis of 2008, will likely deplete any such benefits, especially in the short term immediately after such an event. What is rather important to keep in perspective is (a) your investment horizon and (b) your risk taking capability to diversify into foreign markets.

 

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blog 2With the recent launch of the ICICI Bharat 22 ETF, a lot of buzz around Exchange Traded Funds or ETF’s has been doing the rounds. Most investors may be wondering whether it is worth investing in ETF’s?

So what is an Exchange Traded Fund?

An ETF is a passive investment instrument whose value is based on a particular index and such a scheme mirrors the index and invests in securities in the same proportion as the underlying index. For example, a Nifty ETF will invest in the 50 stocks compromising the Nifty index. ETF’s are freely marketable securities which are traded on the stock exchange.

Since ETF’s trade on the exchange, their value fluctuates all the time during the market trading hours. This is different from the working of a mutual fund scheme which has a single Net Asset Value (NAV) per day that is determined after the trading hours are over.

Theoretically, ETF’s are structured to provide a variety of advantages to investors. The most prominent among them are as follows:

  • Diversification: ETF’s can provide a variety of diversification based on following themes:
  1. Asset classes such as equities, gold, fixed income
  2. Sectors such as financial services, consumption, infrastructure
  3. Based on market cap i.e. large, mid and small cap
  • Low Cost: One of the biggest attraction of ETF’s has been it’s very low cost structure, especially in comparison to Indian mutual funds. The low costs is primarily due to the fact that an ETF is a passive investment i.e. there is no active intervention in stock selection, re balancing based on a certain view. Therefore the costs associated with hiring professionals and the required infrastructure is avoided, resulting in a significantly cheaper product. Furthermore, most ETF’s have kept the expense ratios low to induce significant inflows from institutional investors. Following are examples of some commonly known ETF’s and their respective Expense Ratios
ETF Expense Ratio
CPSE ETF 0.07%
Motilat Oswal MOSt Shares M100 ETF 1.50%
Kotak Banking ETF 0.20%
ICICI Prudential Nifty iWIN ETF Fund 0.05%
SBI – ETF Nifty 50 0.07%
Average 0.38%

(Source: Value Research, mutual fund websites)

  • Suited to Efficient Markets: it is a global observation that passively managed funds have performed significantly better over actively managed funds where markets are more efficient. This is because in developed markets, all related information that should be priced into the equity market already happens, leaving very little space for the fund managers to beat their respective benchmarks.
  • Reduced Risks: Due to its passive structure, the risk arising due to stock selections by a fund manager are reduced. Furthermore, as an ETF comprises the same stocks in the same allocation as in the underlying index, tracking error is significantly reduced to the point of it being almost negligible. Tracking Error is the standard deviation between the returns of the fund and the underlying index. A lower tracking error indicates the fund is that the ETF will mirror the index more closely and therefore its performance will be more consistent with the same index.

Despite many advantages that ETF’s can bring to the table, in India they so far have been primarily avoided for the following reasons:

  • Liquidity: One of the major disadvantages plaguing ETF’s currently is liquidity. As ETF’s are traded on the exchange like any stock, its not always you will have to opportunity to either buy or sell at the desired quantity or price, depending on the type of ETF involved. However an alternative to this problem is the use of a market maker. A market maker is appointed by fund houses. They, on behalf of fund houses, provide quotes for buying or selling an ETF based on the current NAV of that ETF. This helps ensure liquidity for investors. Any investor can approach a market maker for transaction. The difference in their quote and the NAV of the ETF is called “spread”, is the cost for the services. –
  • Lack of awareness: Distributors receive negligible commission for recommending and executing an investment into an ETF. Because of these low margins not much efforts have gone into promoting ETF’s. Thus, most investors are unaware of what an ETF is and how it can add value to their portfolio.
  • Relative Underperformance over long term: While in theory ETF’s should out perform active managed funds in an efficient market, the point to note is that India is still some time from achieving that status. Hence actively managed equity funds, especially in the top quartile, are able to beat the underlying index, and ETF’s over long term horizons. This currently results in alpha creation which ETF’s may take time to match up to. The following table is a comparison between a random mix of actively managed equity funds and equity oriented ETF’s:
  1yr 3yr 5yr 10yr
Aditya Birla Sun Life Frontline Equity 26.62 10.21 16.89 10.61
Franklin Templeton Franklin India Prima Plus 24.86 11.17 18.22 10.87
HDFC Top 200 28.42 8.39 14.99 10.65
IDFC Premier Equity 30.35 11.72 18.68 14.08
ICICI Prudential Nifty 100 iWIN ETF 27.54 8.44    
Kotak Sensex ETF 23.88 5.36 10.7  
Reliance ETF Nifty BeES 26.78 6.7 11.91 5.75
S&P BSE Sensex 25.58 5.01 11.15 5.14
NSE Nifty 100 26.97 7.55 12.71 6.08
source: value express , date (07 Dec 17), returns data CAGR        

As in the Indian economy continues its march towards being recognized as a developed nation, there is fair certainty that ETF’s will have a far larger role to play. However in current scenarios, practical hurdles continue to keep them out of favor among investors. We believe that assigning a small allocation towards ETF’s, after due diligence, is sufficient basis investor’s risk appetite and investment horizon. As Indian Equity markets evolve, so will the ETF space and this will increase investors interest towards them.

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