Financial instruments are assets that can be traded, or they can also be seen as packages of capital that may be traded.
What are bonds?
A bond is a debt security. When you purchase a bond, you are lending money to a government or a private corporation or other entity known as the issuer. In return for the loan, the issuer promises to pay you a specified rate of interest during the life of the bond and to repay the face value of the bond (the principal) when it "matures", or comes due.
There are various types of bonds you can choose from: local and foreign government securities, corporate bonds, developing country bonds and eurobonds.
Why invest in bonds?
Most investment firms recommend that investors maintain a diversified investment portfolio consisting of a range of securities in varying percentages, depending upon individual circumstances and objectives. Because bonds typically have a predictable stream of payments and repayment of principal, many people invest in them to preserve and to increase their capital or to receive dependable interest income.
What aspects do I have to look for if I choose to invest in bonds?
There are a number of key variables to look for when investing in bonds: the bond's maturity/redemption date, redemption features, credit quality, interest rate, price, yield to maturity and tax status. Together, these factors help determine the value of your bond investment and the degree to which it matches your investment objectives.
A bond's maturity refers to the specific future date on which the investor's principal will be repaid. Bond maturities generally range from one day up to thirty years. Maturity ranges are often categorized as follows:
- Short-term notes: maturities of up to 4 years;
- Medium-term notes/bonds: maturities of 5 to 12 years;
- Long-term bonds: maturities of 12 or more years.
While the maturity period is a good guide as to how long the bond will be outstanding, certain bonds have structures that can substantially change the expected life of the investment. For example, some bonds have redemption or call provisions that allow or require the issuer to repay the investors principal at a specified date before maturity. Bonds are commonly called when prevailing interest rates have dropped significantly since the time the bonds were issued. Before you buy a bond, always ask if there is a call provision and, if there is, be sure to obtain the yield to call in addition to the yield to maturity. Bonds with a redemption provision usually have a higher return to compensate for the risk that the bonds might be called before maturity.
Your choice of maturity will depend on when you want or need the principal repaid and the kind of investment return you are seeking within your risk profile. Some individuals might choose short-term bonds for their comparative stability and safety, although their investment returns will typically be lower than would be the case with long-term securities. Alternatively, investors seeking greater overall returns might be more interested in long-term securities despite the fact that their value is more vulnerable to interest rate fluctuations and other market risks. Longer term bonds will fluctuate more than short term bonds even though they might have higher yields to maturity.
Bond choices range from the highest credit quality, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the issuing entity (such as the government), to bonds that are below investment grade and considered speculative.
When a bond is issued, the issuer is responsible for providing details as to its financial soundness and creditworthiness. This information is contained in a document known as an offering document or prospectus. If your intermediary is not able to provide you with a copy of this document, you should request a summary of the main features attached to the bond which you intend to purchase. Such features would normally include: information about the issuer, name of the bond (including coupon, date of maturity), current price, accrued interest (if any), frequency of coupon payments, redemption information, ratings.
Make sure that all information given to you verbally is put down in writing for future reference.
Some investors, including Maltese, are tempted by the prospect of earning high yields by investing in emerging country bonds. However, although the annual or semi-annual coupon payment can be quite high, most investors tend to discount the underlying country or sovereign risk. It is risk inherent in holding shares, bonds or other securities whose fortunes are closely allied with a particular country. If the country goes into an economic downturn, or its debt is downgraded (see next question), or the international investor sentiment just turns against it, your investments may well lose value. Generally speaking, sovereign risk is more of a problem for investors in emerging markets than in developed economies.
Of course the very volatility of emerging markets also presents opportunities, although retail investors should exercise extra caution when investing in such securities.
But how can I know whether the company of goverment entity whose bond I am buying will be able to make its regularly scheduled interest payments in 5,10,20 or 30 years time?
You may have heard your intermediary mention the term "triple A" or simply an "A". These are called ratings. Each international bond is usually given a rating by a rating agency. These agencies, such as Standard and Poor's or Moody's, give these ratings when they are issued and monitor developments during the bond's lifetime. Such agencies maintain research staff that monitor the ability and willingness of the various companies, governments and other issuers to pay their interest and principal payments when due. Your investment firm can supply you with current research on the issuer and on the characteristics of the specific bond you are considering.
Each of the agencies assigns its ratings based on an in-depth analysis of the issuer's financial condition and management, economic and debt characteristics, and the specific revenue sources securing the bond. The highest ratings are AAA (Standard & Poor's) and Aaa (Moody's). Bonds rated in the BBB category or higher are considered investment-grade; securities with ratings in the BB category and below are considered below investment-grade.
It is extremely important to understand that, for any single bond, the high interest rate that generally accompanies a lower rating is a signal or warning of higher risk.
|Credit Risk||Moody's||Standard & Poor's|
|Highest Quality (Very Strong)||Aa||AA|
|Upper Medium Grade (Strong)||A||A|
|Non Investment Grade|
Bonds pay interest that can be fixed, floating or payable at maturity. Most bonds carry an interest rate that stays fixed until maturity and is a percentage of the prinicpal amount. Typically, investors receive interest payments semi-annually. For example, a EUR1,000 bond with an 8% interest rate will pay investors EUR80 a year, in payments of EUR40 every six months. When the bond matures, investors receive the full face value of the bond, that is EUR1,000.
But some sellers and buyers of bonds prefer having an interest rate that is adjustable, and more closely tracks prevailing market rates. The interest rate on a floating-rate bond is reset periodically in line with changes in a base interest-rate index.
Some bonds have no periodic interest payments. Instead, the investor receives one payment at maturity that is equal to the face value of the bond plus the total accrued interest, compounded semi-annually at the original interest rate. Known as zero-coupon bonds, they are sold at a substantial discount from their face amount. For example, a bond with a face amount of EUR20,000 maturing in 20 years might be purchased for about EUR5,050. At the end of the 20 years, the investor will receive EUR20,000. The difference between EUR20,000 and EUR5,050 represents the interest, based on an interest rate of 7%, which compounds automatically until the bond matures.
The price you pay for a bond is based on a whole host of variables, including interest rates, supply and demand, credit quality, maturity and tax status. Newly issued bonds normally sell at or close to their face value. Bonds traded in the secondary market, however, fluctuate in price in response to changing interest rates. When the price of a bond increases above its face value, it is said to be selling at a premium. When a bond sells below face value, it is said to be selling at a discount.
Yield is the return you actually earn on the bond, based on the price you paid and the interest payment you receive.
The yield to maturity tells you the total return you will receive by holding the bond until it matures or is called. It also enables you to compare bonds with different maturities and coupons. Yield to maturity equals all the interest you receive from the time you purchase the bond until maturity (including interest on interest at the original purchasing yield), plus any gain (if you purchased the bond below its par, or face value) or loss (if you purchased it above its par value).
You should ask your intermediary for the yield to maturity on any bond you are considering purchasing. Your intermediary will also help you understand better how the yield to maturity is calculated.
Market Fluctuations: The Link Between Price and Yield
From the time a bond is originally issued until the day it matures, its price in the marketplace will fluctuate according to changes in market conditions or credit quality. The constant fluctuation in price is true of individual bonds, and true of the entire bond market, with every change in the level of interest rates typically having an immediate effect on the prices of bonds.
When prevailing interest rates rise, prices of outstanding bonds fall to bring the yield of older bonds into line with higher-interest new issues. When prevailing interest rates fall, prices of outstanding bonds rise, until the yield of older bonds is low enough to match the lower interest rate on new issues. Because of these fluctuations, you should be aware that the value of a bond will likely be higher or lower than both its original face value and the purchase price if you sell it before it matures.
Virtually all investments have some degree of risk. When investing in bonds, it is important to remember that an investment's return is linked to its risk. The higher the return, the higher the risk. Conversely, relatively safe investments offer relatively lower returns.
Secured vs Unsecured
Secured bonds are those bonds which are backed by a specific asset or revenue stream. If the company which issued the bonds becomes financially insolvent, the secured bondholders have first access to that asset, or to revenue provided by the specific asset. If this occurs, investors are able to collect at least a portion of what they are owed
When bonds are unsecured, this means that repayment of capital is not collateralised by a security on specific assets of the issuer in the case of a bankruptcy or liquidation or failure to meet the terms for repayment. These bonds are not backed by anything but your trust and the company's commitment to pay.
Subordinated vs Unsuboridinated
In the case of bankruptcy or insolvency holders of unsubordinated bonds can claim access to collateral or earnings before other debt holders, such as the holders of junior debt.
On the other hand Subordinate bonds are bonds for which banks and companies are comprehensively liable with their capital assets. The holders of such bonds will not be treated as preferred creditors; in the case of insolvency, senior creditors take preference in having their claims satisfied from the debtor's assets.
Bonds are a form of debt and as such, they rank higher than equity. This gives them a better claim to get their money back when business turns sour since the equity holders have an obligation to repay their creditors. Following the financial crisis, when governments injected hundreds of billions into banks, most banks bondholders were left untouched – even those holding subordinated, or junior, debt.
The Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD), provides resolution authorities with a set of resolution tools and powers. These include the power to sell or merge the business with another bank, to set up a temporary bridge bank to operate critical functions, to separate good assets from bad ones and to convert into shares or write down the debt of failing banks (bail–in). In addition, bank capital instruments must be written down or converted when the relevant authority determines that the bank is no longer viable, which may occur before the point of resolution.
These unsecured bonds issued by credit institutions and investment firms with specific features that enable them to be converted into shares or written down at a certain trigger event or at the discretion of the supervising authority are therefore called bail in able bonds.
Clients should be aware that as holders of these unsecured liabilities they do not benefit from the preferred creditor status as they are not depositors, who are eligible for deposit guarantee scheme coverage.
Firms should give fair, clear and not misleading information about the risks of financial instruments subject to the resolution regime and the procedures for the suitability/appropriateness assessment should carefully consider the nature and characteristics of the instruments, including their complexity, possible returns, risks and liquidity.
Collective Investment Schemes
What is a Collective Investment Scheme?
These are financial products where money from a number of different investors is pooled and then invested by a fund manager according to specific criteria. The scheme or fund is divided into segments called 'units', which are to some degree similar to shares. Investors take a stake in the fund by buying these units, they will therefore become unitholders. The price of a unit is based on the value of the investments the fund has invested in. Collective investment schemes may have different fee structures, make sure you understand how you will be charged before you invest as charges may have a major impact on the performance of your investment.
How do Collective Investment Schemes vary from one to another?
Collective investment schemes can invest in shares, bonds, deposits and other investments. Usually, fund managers select the investments they think will do best and switch from one to another as market conditions change. However, fund managers are obliged to follow prescribed investment criteria which are set out in the prospectus which is approved by the regulator.
There is a wide variety of funds:
- Money market - They invest in deposits and short-term securities. These are low risk but cannot be expected to give high returns over the long-run.
- Bond Funds - invest in corporate bonds, government bonds and/or similar securities. They are medium to low risk and usually aimed at providing income rather than growth. Because there are many different types of bonds, bond funds can vary dramatically in their risks and rewards.
- Equity Funds - generally involve more risk than money market or bond funds, but can also offer the highest returns. A fund's value (Net Asset Value) can rise and fall quickly over the short term, but historically shares have performed better over the long term than other type of investments. Not all equity funds are the same. For example, growth funds focus on stocks that may not pay a regular dividend but have the potential for large capital gains.
- Balanced Funds - invest in a combination of shares and bonds, ensuring diversification. They are suitable if you want a medium-risk investment. They can be aimed at providing income, growth or both.
- Tracker - unlike the other funds listed here, there is no fund manager actively choosing and switching securities. Instead, the investments are chosen to move in line with a selected stock index, such as the FTSE 100, an index of the share prices of the 100 largest companies (by market capitalisation) in the UK which is updated throughout the trading day. As there is no active management, charges are usually lower.
- Specialist - invest in particular sectors, such as Japan, or particular types of shares, such as small companies. Suitable only if you are comfortable with relatively higher risk.
- Sector - invests in a specific sector such as Retail or Telecommunication Services.
How do I earn money from an investment in a Collective Investment Scheme?
You can earn money from your investment in three ways:
- A fund may receive income in the form of dividends and interest on the securities it owns. A fund will pay its unit holders nearly all the income it has earned in the form of dividends. Usually, these funds are called "Distribution Funds".
- The price of the securities a fund owns may increase. When a fund sells a security that has increased in price, the fund has a capital gain. At the end of the year, most funds may choose to distribute these capital gains (minus capital losses) to investors.
- If a fund does not sell but holds on to securities that have increased in price, the fund's value (Net Asset Value) increases. The higher net asset value reflects the higher value of your investment. If you sell your units, you make a profit (this also is a capital gain).
Usually funds will give you a choice: it can send you payments for distributions and dividends (such funds are called "Distributor" funds), or you can have them reinvested in the fund to buy more units (called "Accumulator" funds).
What should I look for if I decide to invest in Collective Investment Schemes?
Past performance is not as important as you might think, especially the short-term performance of relatively new or small schemes. As with any investment, a fund's past performance is no guarantee of its future success. That said, however, volatility of past returns is a good indicator of a fund's future volatility. Over the long-term, the success (or failure) of your investment in a fund will depend on a number of other factors.
Read the fund's prospectus and shareholder reports, and consider these tips
Check total return
You will find the fund's total return in the financial highlights, usually in the front of the prospectus or the annual financial statements published by the fund. Total return measures increases and decreases in the value of your investment over time, after subtracting costs (you will usually find it written as "Net Return"). When expressed as a percentage, net return for an indicated period is calculated by dividing the change in a fund's Net Asset Value, assuming reinvestment of all income and capital gains distributions, by the initial price.
See how the net return has varied over the years. The Financial Highlights show yearly total return for the most recent five or ten year period. Looking at year-to-year changes in total return is a good way to see how stable the fund's returns have been.
Scrutinise the fund's fees and expenses
Funds charge investors fees and expenses, which can lower your returns. For example, if on an investment of €5000, you have to pay a front-end fee of 2% (€100), the actual amount invested would be €4900. This means that if you wish to realise an adequate return, the fund would need to achieve a return which would at least get back the fee that you paid initially. Find the section in the fund's prospectus where the costs are laid out. You can use the information in this section to compare the costs of different funds.
Transaction related fees before Entry fee.
Usually, fees fall under two main categories:
- Transaction related fees (paid when you buy, sell, or exchange your units), and
- ongoing expenses (paid while you remain invested in the fund).
Entry fee: A fee you pay when you buy units. This type of fee reduces the amount of your investment in the fund.
Exit fee: A fee you pay when you sell your units. It usually starts out at a specified amount for the first year and gets smaller each year after that until it reaches zero (say, in year four of your investment).
The section about fees tells you also the kind of ongoing expenses you will pay while you remain invested in the fund. The relevant section shows expenses as a percentage of the fund's assets, generally for the most recent fiscal year. Here, the section will tell you the management fee (which pays for managing the fund's portfolio), along with any other fees and expenses.
Some funds also charge a performance fee. This annual fee, which is usually paid to the adviser of the fund, is applied by applying a percentage to the difference in the performance of the fund during the year compared to the performance with the previous year. The calculation of the fee may not be very straight forward and you will need the assistance of your intermediary if you want to know more about how this fee is calculated. In essence, this fee gives an incentive to the adviser of the fund to select the best securities on the market in which to invest. A better performance will mean that the adviser gets a larger share of the profits which the fund has generated.
A difference in expenses that may look small to you can make a big difference in the value of your investment over time.
Many funds allow you to switch your units for units of another sub-fund within the same collective investment scheme. The fee section will tell you if there are any switching fees.
What other sources of information should I consult?
Read the sections of the prospectus that discuss the risks, investment goals, and investment policies of any fund that you are considering. Funds of the same type can have significantly different risks, objectives and policies.
You can get a clearer picture of a fund's investment objectives and policies by reading its annual and semi-annual reports. You should be receiving these reports at least annually, if not, please contact your investment firm or the fund manager to send you these reports.
One final hint: Generally the success of your investments over time will depend largely on how much money you have invested in each of the major asset classes; shares, bonds and cash, rather than on the particular securities you hold. When choosing a collective investment scheme, you should consider how your interest in that fund affects the overall diversification of your investment portfolio. Maintaining a diversified and balanced portfolio is key to maintaining an acceptable level of risk.
Risks of investing in complex products
- If you do not understand the key features of the product being offered, or the key risks involved, do not invest. Instead, consider seeking professional advice on what investment is suitable for you.
- Be aware that sometimes the name of a product may not reflect the features of the product. Be wary of promises of "high", "guaranteed", "hedged" or "absolute" returns. These promises often turn out to be misleading.
- Be careful if you need to access your money before the product is due to pay out.
- Before you invest, understand what the total costs are. The cost of an investment will impact the return you are likely to achieve. Also, there may be similar, less complex products - with lower costs available.
Why are we issuing this warning?
During this period of historically low interest rates, investment firms have responded to the search for investment returns by offering complex investment products. Some of these products are designed to allow retail investors access to different types of assets (equities, bonds, commodities) and investment strategies that were previously only available to professional investors.
Complex products are often aggressively marketed. Advertisements sometimes use enticing slogans such as "absolute return", "guaranteed", and "hedged growth", or advertise returns far in excess of deposit account returns that are currently available from banks. These headline promises often turn out to be misleading, or mean something different to what you may have understood.
Investors often do not understand how these complex products work. More specifically, the associated risks, costs, and expected returns are in many cases not immediately apparent or easy to understand.
Some complex products require a high level of knowledge to evaluate and assess the risks. They also need active management and monitoring over time. Active management and monitoring is often too time consuming, impractical and difficult for retail investors. You should consider these difficulties when thinking about investing in complex products.
Organisations that are classified as professional investors should consider whether they are adequately equipped and have the expertise to perform the necessary level of active management and monitoring.
What "complex products" are we talking about?
Complexity is a relative term. Many elements can make a product difficult to understand. A product is likely to be considered complex if the product:
- is a derivative, or incorporates a derivative (a derivative is a financial instrument where the value is based on the value of another financial instrument, or of some other underlying financial asset or index, such as foreign currencies or interest rates they are often included in a financial product to produce or enhance a certain investment strategy, as well as to hedge, or offset, certain risks);
- has underlying assets or indices that are not easily valued, or whose prices or values are not publicly available;
- has a fixed investment term with, for example, penalties in case of early withdrawal that are not clearly explained;
- uses multiple variables or complex mathematical formulas to determine your investment return;
- includes guarantees or capital protection that are conditional or partial, or that can disappear on the happening of certain events.
The following specific products are examples of products that should be considered as complex: asset backed securities ; types of bonds such as convertible or subordinated; certificates; contracts for difference (CFDs); credit linked notes; structured products; and warrants.
What are the main risks and disadvantages of investing in complex products?
Although complex products can provide benefits to you, there are certain risks and potential disadvantages involved in investing in complex products. These risks and disadvantages may not be apparent, or easy to understand. You need to be fully aware of these risks and ensure you sufficiently understand the key features of a product in order to make informed investment decisions.
Liquidity risk is the risk that you will be unable to sell the product easily if you need to do so before the end of its term. If your product is not liquid, which is often the case for complex products, it is highly probable that you will have to sell the product at a heavy discount from purchase price (and you will therefore lose money) or will not be able to sell it at all.
"Leverage" is a term used to describe ways or strategies to multiply potential gains and losses, such as by borrowing money or using products like deriva-tives. It may be suggested to you that you invest with leverage in order to possibly achieve higher returns, but you must keep in mind that leverage can easily multiply losses too.
Market risk is the day-to-day risk of losses arising from movements in market prices. Complex products can expose you to several market risks because they are often designed to invest in separate under-lying markets (for example, in shares, interest rates, exchange rates, commodities).
Credit risk is the risk that the issuer of the product or a firm it deals with defaults and is unable to meet its contractual obligations to repay your investment.
Certain instruments are rated by credit rating agencies. If you are considering investing in a rated instrument, you should ensure that you understand what the ratings mean. A low rating will tell you that there is a higher risk of the issuer defaulting, and you will not get back the money you invested. A high rating indicates that the chances of an issuer defaulting are much lower, but it does not necessarily mean that the investment will provide the return you expect. You should also be aware that the rating of an issuer may change during the lifetime of the product.
Cost of complexity
Complex structures within a product can mean the product has a higher cost because you are paying for the product’s underlying features. Also, fees and commissions are usually built into the structure of the products, and are therefore not readily apparent.
Contracts for Difference (CFD)
A Contract for difference (CFD) is an agreement between a ‘buyer’ and a ‘seller’ to exchange the difference between the current price of an underlying asset (shares, currencies, commodities, indices, etc.) and its price when the contract is closed.
CFDs are leveraged products. They offer exposure to the markets while requiring you to only put down a small margin (‘deposit’) of the total value of the trade.
They allow investors to take advantage of prices moving up (by taking ‘long positions’) or prices moving down (by taking ‘short positions’) on underlying assets.
When the contract is closed you will receive or pay the difference between the closing value and the opening value of the CFD and/or the underlying asset(s). If the difference is positive, the CFD provider pays you. If the difference is negative, you must pay the CFD provider.
CFDs might seem similar to mainstream investments such as shares, but they are very different as you never actually buy or own the underlying asset.
We are including a practical example on how CFDs work compared to investing in a share.
Option 1: Buying Common XYZ Stocks
- The Price of XYZ's stock is $150
- Investor A intends to buy 1000 stocks
- He will invest $150,000
Option 2: Buying CFDs on XYZ Stocks
- The Price of XYZ's Stock CFD is the same with the underlying asset ($150)
- Only a margin of the Nominal Value of the Stock’s Value is required (10%)
- What is the Cost of buying 1000 CFDs? It would be $15,000
Best Case Scenario: XYZ's new phone hits record sales and by the end of the week its stock rises 10%!
Who invested under Option 1: New price of stock is $165. Profit of each stock is $15…
Who invested under Option 2: New price of CFD is $165. Profit of each CFD is $15…,
The total profit made would be $15,000 under each option however percentage wise it would be 10% of the capital invested under Option 1 and 100% under Option 2.
Worse Case Scenario: XYZ's new phone debut disappoints and the stock’s price by the end of the week is down 10%!
Who invested under Option 1: New price of stock is $135. Loss on each stock is $15
Who invested under Option2: New price of CFD is $135. Loss on each CFD is $15
The total loss made would be $15,000 under each option however percentage wise it would be loss of 10% of the capital invested under Option 1 and 100% under Option 2.
CFDs are complex products and are not suitable for all investors.
Don’t use money you can’t afford to lose. You could lose much more than your initial payment.
You should only consider trading in CFDs if:
- you have extensive experience of trading in volatile markets,
- you fully understand how they operate, including all the risks and costs involved
- you are aware that the greater the leverage, the greater the risk,
- you understand that your position can be closed whether or not you agree with the provider’s decision to close your position,
- you have sufficient time to manage your investment on an active basis.
Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)
What are exchange Traded funds?
Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) are similar to collective investment schemes. ETFs invest in a number of assets, for instance shares, bonds or commodities such as gold. ETFs can be bought and sold like shares through your financial intermediary. What makes it different is that an ETF would try to track the value of a share index (such as the FTSE 100 which represents the top 100 companies on the UK stock exchange). ETFs may offer an opportunity to diversify an investment portfolio, possibly at a lower fee than a traditional collective investment scheme (where the underlying assets would need to be actively managed according to pre-determined parameters).
Most ETFs buy the underlying shares and other assets that they are trying to track. These are known as standard or 'physical ETFs' and you will usually own units or shares much like a traditional collective investment schemes. The main investment risk for this type of ETF is that the performance of the underlying shares or other assets which the investment is trying to match varies continuously.
Another type of ETF is known as 'synthetic ETF'. These ETFs may or may not directly own the underlying shares or other assets and use complex products called derivatives to track their performance, before subtracting any applicable fees. An important warning: Synthetic ETFs are very complex and risky products and one should therefore be aware of all possible risks prior to investing in such products.
Are there features particular to ETFs I should know prior to investing?
Although ETFs may appear simple and transparent, they can be complex investments. One important thing to note is that their values fluctuate constantly in line with the underlying asset they are trying to track. There might also be the possibility of an error in the pricing of physical ETF. This happens when the ETF does not exactly follow the price of the index or investments they are designed to track. This 'tracking error' may be caused by fees, taxes (both local and foreign), and other external factors.
Before acquiring an ETF, check that the price you have been quoted from your intermediary matches what the ETF issuer says its assets are worth (the 'net asset value', or NAV). Some ETF issuers may also have a website and publish their estimated NAVs. Therefore, the price you see on a website or given by an intermediary is an estimate, the price at which you buy or sell may vary from this estimate.
While ETFs have become known for their low costs, management fees vary and there are other costs to consider. For example, management fees for some physical or synthetic ETFs may be higher than the fees for an equivalent (unlisted) index fund. There might also be a brokerage fee which will be charged every time you buy or sell ETFs. There might also be other fees, ask your intermediary about them or, better still, check for such fees on the documentation you should be given about the ETF.
Some physical and synthetic ETFs offer exposure to risky investments such as small startup companies, underlying investments in emerging markets or commodities that may be harder to sell. This therefore means that some ETFs may be riskier than others due to the risk attached to their underlying investments. If the ETF tracks assets denominated in a foreign currency, such as shares issued in US dollars, a change in the value of the Euro (or your local currency if different) or dollar may also affect the value of your investment thus increasing the overall risk.
Some ETFs might not trade daily or on a regular basis due to the illiquidity of the underlying assets and therefore this may limit your access to the money invested in the fund.
Most ETFs are 'passive' investments that simply seek to follow a market index (up or down), rather than trying to outperform it. This means you have no protection from investment losses when the market falls. Some ETFs may however impose an upper or lower maximum threshold to which the investor will be exposed to. This will therefore limit your losses but also your gains.
Questions you should ask prior to investing
- Do you understand the risks involved, and are you comfortable with them?
- Are the underlying assets liquid (easily bought and sold), or are they less liquid investments (such as property)?
- Are derivatives, hedging or speculative techniques used by the ETF? If the answer is yes, the risks may be higher.
- What are the fees being charged and how will these be paid? Are there any additional fees should I decide to buy or sell? Can these be changed?
- What does the documentation about the ETF say about "returns"? Are returns guaranteed or promised? Are such returns net or gross of tax? If so what is my position?
- These products are traded on foreign stock exchanges. Am I comfortable with the fact that different rules and less protection may apply? There might also be a currency risk to consider.
- Am I putting all my eggs in one basket? What is the proportion invested in the ETF compared to my entire investment portfolio?
Finally, before you invest in any ETF it is important that you do your homework well and get advice from a trusted, licensed financial adviser. If you don't understand how the investment works or you have not been given sufficient documentation which you can easily understand, don't invest!
Foreign Exchange (FX or forex) trading is when you attempt to generate a profit by speculating on the value of one currency compared to another.
Foreign currencies can be traded because the value of a currency will fluctuate, or its exchange rate value will change, when compared to other currencies.
Forex trading is normally conducted through 'margin trading', where a small collateral deposit worth a percentage of a total trade's value, is required to trade.
Financial regulators in the EU have also noticed an increase in unauthorised firms offering transactions, or platforms to trade, in currency derivatives in the Forex market, such as 'contracts for difference' [CFDs], 'FX forwards', and 'rolling spot contracts'.
Forex trading is complex and risky. It involves predicting movements in currencies. Trading in international currencies requires a huge amount of knowledge, research and monitoring. If YOU:
Don't know how forex works in detail; AND
Don't have time to do research and monitor your trades; AND
Don't understand the online platforms used for trading and their functionality; AND
Have not read or fully understood the product disclosure statement and DISCUSSED the risks with your financial adviser; AND
Don't to lose more than the amount you invested
Then steer clear from even thinking about Forex Trading.
Structured products can be any one of a wide range of investments and can offer income, capital growth, or a combination of both. Most structured products tend to be open to new investment for a short period of time. Your money will then usually need to be tied up for between one and ten years. Some structured products offer full capital protection, but others offer partial or no capital protection.
Structured products are often complicated. You should seek professional advice if you are in any doubt about the potential risks and returns involved.
You could lose some or all of the money you put into these products, so make sure you understand the risks before investing.
How do they work?
Structured products offer returns based on the performance of underlying investments. Many products are linked to a stock market index such as the FTSE 100, Nasdaq, or EuroStoxx50. The underlying investments may involve different firms based in various countries.
A typical structured product will have two underlying investment components:
- a note - (a type of debt security). This component is used to provide capital protection. It may pay interest at a specified rate and interval, and may repay some or all of your original money at maturity; and
- a derivative - (a financial instrument linked to the value of something else, such as a stock market index or the price of another asset, such as oil or gold). This component is used to provide the potential growth element that you could get at maturity. Investors are usually offered only a share of any increase in the level of the index or asset price which occurs during the term of the investment.
What about structured deposits?
Some structured products are deposits rather than investments. Structured deposits (often marketed as "equity linked deposit accounts") can only be offered by banks which are able to accept deposits. Your money is treated as if it is in a restricted-access bank account but, unlike a traditional savings account which pays a fixed rate of interest, the interest you receive will depend on the performance of a stock market index or asset.
Key risks and product features
You could lose some or all of the money you put into these products, so make sure you understand the risks before investing.
The following list is not exhaustive and not all risks or features are applicable to each type of product.
- Credit risk - a product may be designed and marketed by a "plan manager", but the returns and guarantees are generally provided by a third party. If that third party goes bankrupt, you could lose some or all of your money, even if a product is called "protected" or "guaranteed".
- Market or investment risk - if the return of your original money depends on the performance of a stock market index or asset, then if the level of that index or asset falls during the term of the investment you may lose some or all of your original money. If this happens, you could lose your original money very quickly.
- Liquidity risk - the benefits offered (such as capital protection) are usually only available if the product is held for the full term. It may be difficult or expensive to access your money before the end of the investment term.
- No dividend income - even if a product is linked to the performance of a stock market index, you will not receive any dividend income from the companies which make up that index.
- Capped returns - many products restrict or cap the level of the return you can receive, so if an index or asset price rises above the level of that cap, you do not receive additional returns.
- Averaging - the return offered by some products can depend on several measurements of index levels or asset prices during the life of the investment. While this can protect you from short-term falls in an index level or asset value, it may also prevent full exposure to any gains.
- Limited participation - many products only offer a proportion (for example 50%) of any gains made by the index or asset to which they are linked.
- Inflation - even where a product is marketed as "100% capital protected", the real value of the capital can suffer significant erosion by inflation over the term of the investment.
- Tax - the tax treatment of structured products depends on their legal structure and on any tax wrapper in which the product is held.
Some "capital protected" products may not be covered by the Maltese Depositor Compensation Scheme if the bank holding your deposit goes bankrupt. Your bank should disclose this information to you at the time you are offered this product. Check the documentation which is given to you for reference to the Depositor Compensation Scheme and whether the product and the bank are covered by such scheme.
Structured products are often complicated. You should seek professional advice if you are in any doubt about the potential risks and returns involved.