Debt mutual funds are those that invest in fixed income instruments – such as corporate and government bonds, overnight securities, corporate debt securities, money market instruments etc. These funds are ideal for investors who are averse to risk and seek to generate regular income.
Debt funds are a good tool to use if you want steady income with low volatility and higher than bank returns. They also come with greater tax-efficiency than these products. We’ll address the advantages of debt funds and compare them with similar products in another article.
Let’s look at how SEBI has categorized debt funds.
- Overnight Funds
These funds invest in overnight securities having a maturity of 1 day. They are the least risky of all debt fund categories, and this low risk comes with low returns. How these funds work is that at the beginning of each day, the AUM is invested in overnight securities, and since they mature the next day, the fund manager can buy fresh overnight bonds the next day using the principal and return earned. NAV of this fund will increase little by little over time. The advantage of this is that changes in the RBI rate, credit rating of the borrower do not affect your investment.
- Liquid Funds
Liquid funds invest in debt and money market securities such as treasury bills, government securities, call money with a maturity of up to 91 days. These are a good tool to use to park surpluses and to build an emergency fund. These can also be used to transfer that surplus to an equity fund using a Systematic Transfer Plan (STP). What’s interesting to note is that some liquid funds even come with an instant redemption facility.
- Money Market Funds
Money market funds invest in money market instruments such as commercial papers, certificates of deposit, treasury bills, repo agreements of the highest quality with a maturity of up to 1 year. These are suitable for investors with low risk appetite and an investment horizon of at least a year.
- Corporate Bond Funds
Corporate Bond Funds invest in debt instruments issued by companies. These instruments comprise of the highest rated bonds, debentures, commercial papers and structured obligations. Minimum investment in corporate bonds by these funds is 80% of the AUM. They are suitable for investors with an investment tenure of 3-5 years.
- Credit Risk Funds
Credit-risk funds are debt funds that invest at least 65% of total assets in papers rated less than AA (not of the highest quality). As these funds take on more risk than most other debt funds, they come with the ability to generate higher returns too. It is suitable for investors who can assume high risk and have an investment horizon of at least 3 years.
- Banking and PSU Funds
Banking and PSU debt funds invest at least 80% of their corpus in debt instruments of banks, Public Sector Undertakings and Public Financial Institutions. They come with low risk and are suitable for investors who have an investment horizon of 1-2 years.
- Duration funds
Duration funds invest in debt and money market instruments that have different maturities. Based on the maturity of instruments, they are classified into ultra-short (3-6 months), low duration (6-12 months), short duration (1-3 years), medium duration (3-4 years), medium to long duration (4-7 years), long duration (7+ years). The longer the tenure of the fund, the higher its ability to take risk. Investors in these funds should invest if the maturities are in line with their investment horizon as the fund will take this time to give an investor his principal and the interest owed to him (Macaulay duration) for investing in the fund.
- Dynamic Bond Funds
Dynamic bond funds invest in instruments with varying durations. These are actively managed funds and are suitable for investors who find it difficult to judge interest rate movement and have an investment horizon of 3+ years. This is because these funds hold securities with reducing portfolio maturity when interest rates rise and increasing portfolio maturity when interest rates fall.
- Gilt Funds
Gilt funds invest at least 80% of their total assets in Government securities (G-secs). These are issued by central and state governments across various tenures, both long and short. They usually have no default risk as these are government backed. They do come with higher interest rate risk for instruments with higher maturities. These funds are suitable for investors with an investment horizon of 3+ years and benefit the most in a falling interest rate environment.
- Gilt Fund with 10-year constant duration
Gilt funds as discussed earlier invest in government securities. In the case of funds with a 10-year constant duration, assets held in the fund have a Macaulay duration of 10 years and are suitable for investors with this investment horizon in mind.
- Floater Funds
Floater funds invest a minimum of 65% of assets in floating rate instruments and the rest in fixed income securities. Floating rate instruments are those that don’t have a fixed interest. If interest rates rise, the interest from these funds also rise immediately. These funds invest in securities that have medium to long-term maturities.
- Fixed Maturity Plans (FMPs)
FMPs are passively managed close-ended funds, where investments are held to maturity. These can be considered as an alternative to FDs as they have the potential to deliver FD beating returns. Another advantage they have over FDs are that they come with better tax-efficiency. We will discuss tax-efficieny of mutual funds in another article.