Monday 29 June 2020 by Jonathan Sheridan bonds-blocks-calculatorba15d6c55342640fb48aff0000bceb90 LARGE Education (basics)

The best way to invest in corporate bonds

Investing direct or through exchange traded funds (ETFs) or managed funds has advantages and disadvantages; just like investing in shares, the decision depends upon the individual. Here we present seven key considerations for investors when deciding how to invest in bonds.

1. Four key direct ownership bond benefits

Four of the main advantages of investing in bonds direct are:

  1. Funds are returned to you at maturity
  2. Interest is known at the time you buy the bonds as is the date when interest is paid
  3. Investment decisions are based on expected future returns
  4. The opportunity to outperform by investing in and trading a smaller number of good relative value bonds

Unfortunately, these features are lost when you invest in a fund (ETF’s are just passive vs. actively managed funds). When bonds mature in a managed fund or ETF, funds are usually reinvested. Income is absorbed into the fund and the fund manager pays a distribution which is typically quarterly.

Bond funds advertise historical returns and typically bury forward expectations in the small print. Direct investment projects future returns giving you a better sense of expected income and overall yield to maturity.

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Source: FIIG Securities

2. Control 

Other investors may turn to ETFs, an index based portfolio of underlying assets such as stocks, bonds, oil futures, gold bars or foreign currency that divides ownership of those underlying assets into shares. ETFs are usually structured as a managed investment scheme, where investors hold units in a trust. They can be great tools for retail investors to access markets where only institutional players existed just over a decade ago. See below for advantages and disadvantages of ETFs.

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Source: FIIG Securities

3. Time and confidence

Those wanting to invest directly need to take the time to learn about the asset class. If you don’t have the time or perhaps don’t yet have the confidence, managed funds or FIIG’s MIPS product may suit you better.

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4. Invest in corporate bonds with at least $250,000

You need a minimum of $250,000 to invest in Direct Bonds through FIIG. The minimum amount per bond is typically $10,000 which means you can buy up to 25 individual bonds.

Being able to trade bonds through a dealer/broker gives you distinct advantages - access to expert opinions on which bonds represent good relative value, access to new originated bonds not available elsewhere, research, and the opportunity to build relationships. You are not just a number and one of many.

For those with less than $250,000 to invest, a corporate bond fund is a good place to start.

It’s really important to understand what you’ve invested in. Don’t make the assumption that all funds are diversified. A fund like the AMP Corporate Bond Fund is well diversified with the top 10 holdings representing just 24% of the fund. But there are others such as the Russell Investments Australian Select Corporate Bond ETF with 100% of its holdings invested in the bonds of the ‘big four banks’ There is very little point using such a fund if your objective is diversification.

5. Transparency and fees

Most managed funds do not disclose more than their top ten investments. This means you don’t know what they have invested in. Fund managers typically don’t want competitors to know what’s in their portfolios but this makes it very difficult for investors to analyse the risk of the fund. Direct ownership means you know precisely what you own and can determine if the risk is appropriate for your circumstances.

One of the arguments against investing in bonds directly is the lack of transparency regarding brokerage fees. But anyone that transacts in bonds pays a brokerage fee, so whether you are investing directly or through a managed fund, you are paying brokerage. The advantage of the managed fund is that they buy bonds in larger quantities and so would achieve some scale.

Take a fund with a management fee of 0.8%. Over an average 5 year investment you will pay 4% in fees. Typically a 5 year bond bought through FIIG will cost you approximately 1% upfront, although if you hold this to maturity that is not a ‘real’ cost – it represents a theoretical cost that you pay to access the market. You will receive the yield you expected at the price you pay, with no erosion of returns from ongoing fees.

At FIIG we produce a daily independent third party price list, found here.

As licensed custodial service providers, FIIG charges a custody service fee when you use our custodial service.

The custody service fee is calculated daily on the value of your account holdings and charged monthly. See estimated fees below:

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For example, if a client had $2 million to invest:
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For more information, see our article on How to buy bonds or visit www.fiig.com.au/private/services/custodial-service

6. Those needing guaranteed short-term liquidity

Bond funds don’t actually guarantee liquidity, but it takes a pretty extreme liquidity crisis (such as late 2008 and in selected cases recently) to cause a large corporate bond fund to block redemptions. In normal times, redemptions occur within a few days. Individual bonds are generally widely traded and cash settlement could occur as early as 2 days after a trade is executed.

7. Diversification across your portfolio

If you own a lot of bank stocks or residential property, one thing to watch with a corporate bond fund is the level of bank exposure. Most of the large corporate bond funds have a very high (20%+) exposure to global banks, which means if you already hold bank shares in your SMSF, you are creating a very high allocation to banks across your whole portfolio. Direct bond ownership means you can tailor your bond portfolio to fit in with the rest of your portfolio.

Most managed funds do not disclose more than their top ten investments. This means you don’t know what they have invested in. Fund managers typically don’t want competitors to know what’s in their portfolios but this makes it very difficult for investors to analyse the risk of the fund. Direct ownership means you know precisely what you own and can determine if the risk is appropriate for your circumstances.

One of the arguments against investing in bonds directly is the lack of transparency regarding brokerage fees. But anyone that transacts in bonds pays a brokerage fee, so whether you are investing directly or through a managed fund, you are paying brokerage. The advantage of the managed fund is that they buy bonds in larger quantities and so would achieve some scale.