In our earlier articles, we had introduced debt market instruments and measures of valuing debt instruments (The different measures of debt). We had also looked into some of the factors, which affect the pricing and valuations of bonds ( The yield curve).
Although debt market instruments offer safe returns, they are not entirely risk free. There are several risks associated, arising mainly from change in external factors. Change in interest rate is the most influential risk, which primarily affects bond prices. We had earlier analysed the impact of interest rate risk and effect of other factors like monetary policy, fiscal policy, economic growth and inflation on bond prices. The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the other market related risks, which also influence bond prices. Some of the key risks factors associated with bond valuations are listed as follows:
Interest rate risk: Since we had already mentioned about interest rate risk in our previous articles, we will not go in its detail analysis. But just to refresh our memories, there is an inverse relationship between changes in interest rates and bond prices. The value of a bond is the sum total of the present value of its fixed future cash flows, discounted at the appropriate current market interest rate. Therefore, when the interest rate increases, a bond's value drops and vice-versa.
A bond with longer maturity and higher yield will normally have less impact on price due to change in interest rates. On the other hand, an instrument with shorter maturity and low yield will tend to have larger impact on its price. The price volatility for low maturity and low yield instrument would however be on the lower side, as future cash inflows are lower compared to bond with long maturity period.
Source: NSE web site
Let's take the practical example in order to understand the relationship between maturity, bond price and yield. As can be seen from the table above, bond having the highest yield to maturity (YTM) of 22.7% and longer duration (in this case 6 years) will be relatively more volatile compared to a bond having short maturity and low YTM (6.5% instrument having YTM of 12%). However, impact on price due to change in interest rate will be more on bond having a short maturity and low yield.
Call and prepayment risk: The issuer can call a bond if the call price is below the theoretical market price due to falling interest rates. This is due to the fact that if interest rate declines issuer can raise fresh funds at lower interest rates and would repay the loans raised earlier carrying higher interest rates. Also, the possibility of a call limits or caps the potential for price appreciation (if interest rate falls bond price can rise near the call price and not more than that). In India bonds issued with call options are generally not traded in markets (not listed). IDBI Flexibond 1992 issue (interest rate of about 16.5%) is the latest example of issuer calling the bond. The bond was originally issued for 25 years tenure, with a put and call option after every five years. The decision of the institution has come in the wake of softer interest rate scenario. IDBI could now raise fresh funds by about 500 basis points lower than the earlier 16% debt. Thus before investing in a non-government bond, the investor should evaluate the terms given for call option by the issuer which is likely to impact investor's future cash inflow.
Reinvestment risk: The bondholder is exposed to the risk of investing the proceeds of the bond (or coupon payments) at lower interest rates after the bond is called. This is known as reinvestment risk. The risk is intense for those investors who depend on a bond's coupon payments for most part of their returns. Reinvestment risk becomes more problematic with longer time horizons and when the current coupons being reinvested are relatively large. Home loan and personal finance companies are generally affected when home and auto buyers prepay their loans. In the lower interest rate environment, the finance companies get back their money sooner than expected, which adversely affects their future revenues.
Credit risk: For a bond investor, there are primarily three types of credit risk: default risk, credit spread risk and downgrade risk.
Default risk is defined as the possibility that the issuer will fail to meet its obligations (timely payment of interest and principal) under the indenture.
Credit spread risk is the excess return earned by a bond investor above the return on a benchmark, default free security (G-Sec). This is to compensate the investor for risk of buying a risky security. Interest rates on bonds issued by corporates are therefore generally higher compared to return from G-Secs.
Yield on a risk bond = Yield on a default free bond + Risk premium
Downgrade risk: It is the risk that a bond is reclassified as a riskier security by a credit rating agency. The rating agency considers many factors for evaluating the credit worthiness of a particular instrument. This includes the economic environment at large, the ability of the issuer to make good on its promise and the general political condition in the country. When an issue is re-categorized or its credit rating is changed, the yield adjusts immediately to reflect the new rating.
Liquidity risk: It is the risk that represents the likelihood that an investor will be unable to sell the security quickly and at a fair price. Illiquid security will also have the risk of large price volatility. Quantitatively liquidity risk can be estimated through Bid-ask spread. Bid price represents the price at which dealers are willing to buy the security from traders/investors and ask price represents the price at which they are willing to sell the security to investors. The bid price is lower than the ask. The spread between these two prices is known as the bid-ask spread and it is used as a measure of a security's liquidity. High spreads signal an illiquid market. Investors like liquid markets so that they can buy and sell securities quickly and at a fair price. Liquidity may also improve as more participants actively engage in trading a security.
For example, a 10.2% bond has the YTM of just 2.7%, but it is one of the most actively traded instruments with a longer maturity period. Thus it offers good liquidity to investors who can buy/sell the instrument easily. On the other hand instrument with a coupon rate of 10.8% with a maturity period of 13 years, although offers high YTM of 6.5%, has a relatively low liquidity.
Source: NSE web site
Exchange rate risk: When bond payments (coupons/principal) are denominated in a currency other than the home currency of the bond holder, the investor bears the risk of receiving an uncertain amount when these payments are converted into the home currency. For example if rupee appreciates against the foreign currency (US$) of the bond payments, each US$ will be worth less in terms of rupee. This uncertainty related to adverse exchange rate movements in known as the exchange-rate risk or simply the currency risk.
Inflation risk: It refers to the possibility that prices of general goods and services will increase in the economy. Since fixed coupon bonds pay a constant coupon, increasing prices erode the buying power associated with bond payments. This is known as the inflation risk. For example, if a risk free bond has a coupon rate of 7.5%, and prices increase at the rate of 4% per year, the investor's real return is 3.5%. Higher inflation rates result in a reduction of the purchasing power of bond payments (principal and interest).
Event risk: These are generally related to the occurrence of a particular event and its impact on bond price. These can be listed as disasters, corporate restructuring, regulatory issues and political risk. Disasters (earthquakes or industrial actions) may impair the ability of a corporation to meet its debt obligations. Corporate restructuring (mergers, spin offs) may affect the obligations of the company by impacting its cash flow or the underlying assets that serve as a collateral. Regulatory issues such as environmental and other restrictions may impose compliance costs on the issuer, impacting its cash flow negatively. Political risk consisting of changes in the government or restrictions imposed on foreign exchange flows can limit the ability of the borrower to meet its foreign exchange obligations.
Volumes in the debt market are improving on increasing demand from banks. With credit growth in the system tinkering down, banks are investing in government securities over and above the minimum requirement for SLR. This has offered the good liquidity to the markets. Although, the bias is towards softer interest rates, retail investor should take into account the above risk factors before investing into a debt instrument. This is due to the fact that actual yield earned is determined by the price of a bond which is again the factor of the above listed risks.