Understanding Target Maturity Debt Funds
Within the universe of debt mutual funds there are a variety of options available to investors. The nature and behaviour of each category of debt funds is heavily dependent on the tenure of individual securities held within the fund. Variants of debt funds such as liquid funds, ultra short term bond funds, corporate bond funds and gilt funds are well known to investors. But there is another category of debt funds which are relatively lesser known and therefore not clearly understood by investors in India. These are target maturity debt funds.
Target maturity debt funds invest in a set of bonds which mature on a certain date in the future and therefore both the fund and the bonds within them mature on the same date. It effectively becomes a closed ended fund with characteristics of an open ended fund. In other words a target maturity debt fund is wound up on a specific date in the future like a closed ended fund. But until the date of winding up, investors can freely buy and sell units of the fund in the same way as an open ended fund. But how exactly does a target maturity debt fund work? And how can investors employ them in their financial plans effectively? All this and more will be answered today.
The first thing to understand about target maturity debt funds is that they are a passive mode of investment in debt mutual funds. Therefore they are usually sold either as an index fund or an ETF. Also, even though these funds mature and get wound up on a specified date in the future and hold bonds whose tenure (technically called the maturity of the bond) matches the tenure of the fund, they should not be confused with Fixed Maturity Plans (FMPs). The two are completely different from one another. The differences between Fixed Maturity Plans and target maturity debt funds are laid out in the graphic that follows.
There are two major risks associated with debt mutual funds of any sort. These are credit risk and interest rate risk. Credit risk usually signifies the risk of an issuer of a bond held by the fund defaulting on payment of interest that is due, or repayment of principal when the bond matures. Interest rate risk is the risk of volatility in the market value or Net Asset Value (NAV) of the debt fund due to a change in prevailing interest rates. Target maturity debt funds usually invest in various types of government securities such as government bonds, PSU Bonds and State Development Loans (SDLs).
These instruments usually enjoy a sovereign credit rating, especially in the case of government bonds. When a debt instrument enjoys a sovereign credit rating, it means that there is negligible risk of such instruments defaulting on interest payments or repayments of principal.
Target maturity debt funds therefore manage credit risk effectively. And because target maturity debt funds hold securities which have maturities similar to the maturity of the fund itself, the average maturity of the fund keeps reducing. Take for example the Bharat Bond ETF which was issued in 2019 and matures in 2030-31. The projected reduction in the cmaturity of the fund is depicted in the graphic that follows.
Such a progressive reduction in the maturity of the fund would make it less sensitive to interest rate changes over time, provided the bonds in the portfolio of the fund are not sold or frequently traded by the manager of the fund. And because a target maturity fund is essentially a debt index fund, the chances of bonds being sold or traded frequently during the tenure of the fund are relatively low. Therefore target maturity funds also manage interest rate risk effectively. The next thing to understand about target maturity debt funds is the nature of returns from such funds.
All target maturity funds would have an indicative measure of return known as the Yield To Maturity (YTM) of the fund. This is return an investor in a target maturity fund can reasonably expect if they were to hold the fund from the date of inception through to the date of maturity. So if the investor were to hold fund right from the NFO period (when the fund is first alloted) through to the date of maturity, the return would be largely similar to the fund's YTM. But if not, the returns would vary. Variability in returns would also be seen if the bonds in the portfolio of the fund were to be sold or traded during the tenure of the fund.
This finally leaves the question as to whether or not target maturity funds are a suitable investment option. There are two things to be kept in mind in this case. If we have a goal that falls due after a certain number of years, a target fund with a maturity that matches the due date of our goal can be an option for the debt component of the portfolio for such a goal. For example, a target maturity fund which winds up in 5 years can be considered as an option for the debt portfolio of a 5 year goal. It is also better to stick to target maturity funds which only hold pure government bonds in their portfolios without PSU bonds or State Development Loans.
This is because while government bonds enjoy a sovereign credit rating virtually all the time, PSU bonds and State Development Loans may not always do so. Moreover if a PSU bond or SDL included in a target maturity fund suffers a downgrade in its credit rating, the NAV of the fund may drop drastically. And this would lead to an uncomfortable investment experience for those who hold such funds.
Those who wish to invest in target maturity funds must therefore understand them clearly before acting upon any plans of investing in them. Though target maturity debt funds are essentially debt index funds which in theory makes them a relatively low risk investment option, there still are some risks that are unique to such funds. Also, the suitability of such funds for our financial goals would mainly depend upon the tenure of the fund matching the investment horizon of our goals. This means that the decision to invest in such funds must only be made in complete cognisance of all these facts.