Need regular income? There are better options to FD

In the last post I had said that we will need to look at a category separately, those who are retired or otherwise and seek regular income for their expenses. Most of these people keep their money in Bank FD’s. Some look at slightly riskier options of corporate FD or NCD in order to earn a little more interest. In this post I will examine options such people have in looking at other instruments.

Now, to give some structure to the discussions let us assume the investor will need 6 lacs per year for his expenses, given that he has a home to stay in and his children being settled financially. If he has 1 crore out of his retirement proceeds or other assets, one option will be to put it in FD. As a senior citizen he will probably get a rate of 7.5 % per year today. So he gets 7.5 lacs in a year which will be good enough for his expenses. As a senior citizen his taxes on this will be 60000 Rs, can also get reduced if he invests in 80 C instruments, medical insurance etc.

So, if this seems to work, why should they just not do it? Firstly, there is no guarantee that the interest rates will not go down further. Secondly, inflation is always going to be a factor and even with a 6 % inflation the costs will double in 12 years time. Thirdly, as no one can predict the life span it will always be better to have some growth factored into your portfolio. In the FD scenario there is absolutely no growth. Fourthly, with increasing expenses you will soon be eating into the capital and may reach a situation that you run out of money long before your passing away.

Let me outline some alternatives with the pros and cons that the investor can look at. I will not go into too much theory here, those are all available in my blog or in the public domain. 

  • Keep the money in the dividend option of MIP funds. These funds mostly give a monthly dividend which will be tax free in your hands. However, there is a Dividend Distribution Tax the fund house has to pay.
  • You can also use the Growth option of MIP and redeem to the extent you need money every month. It will be better to do this after your investment has crossed 3 years as you can get the benefit of LTCG indexation.
  • If you have planned earlier then set up 3 year FMP. As they mature you can use the capital gains for your regular expenses and reinvest the Principal amount in other FMP. With the rates coming down you may want to invest in dual advantage FMP to get incrementally better returns, though with some element of risk.
  • You can put your money in ICICI Balanced Advantage or similar funds which allow selection of dividend in a defined manner. At a rate of 9 % your returns will be adequate for your expenses and dividends are tax free in your hands. However, as the equity exposure is significant here, the element of risk is also high.
  • The above strategy can be also used with Equity Savings Funds, Dynamic Funds or even pure Equity funds as long as you are able to afford the risk.
  • Finally, you can of course try a combination of the above.

How do I invest myself ? Well, for several years now I have no Fixed income product except for Post Office MIS and that was done with a specific purpose in mind. My alternatives have been in FMP, Balanced funds, Gilt funds, MIP, Equity Savings Funds and so on.  For the debt space, I feel I have got a good balance between decent returns and good tax efficiency.

I will write in some details on these later on and also share a couple of real life case studies.

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So what is the alternative to FD’s ?

In the last post I wrote about why FD as an investment is not at all a suitable one. It offers low returns and is clearly not tax efficient. The natural question therefore is, which are the investments to replace traditional bank FD? In this post I will try to answer the same.

Let us first look at why do people invest in FD. There can be many reasons but 3 of them are the most common ones:-

  1. Many people simply do not know of any options for savings and think this is a safe way which will also earn some returns.
  2. Some investors look at FDs as a good place for an Emergency fund and also for any goal that may be coming up in the next 1-5 years.
  3. Retired people and others who want a regular source of income keep their money invested in FD for the longer term.

In this post I will deal with the first two as the last one is more complex in nature and deserves to be dealt with separately.

For the first category of people, if they are able to keep the money for long term, my recommendation will be PPF. The returns here are more than FD today and they are tax free. Moreover you get 80 C benefits with PPF, so if you have not exhausted your 1.5 lac limit through other means, this is a great benefit. Also, though PPF is for a 15 year term, you can make withdrawals after 6 years. Finally, if you start early, this will be a great backup to your MF redemption, in the years which are not good for equity.

What if you do not want a long term product such as PPF? Well, one option can be Arbitrage funds which will probably give you returns of around 7 %. While this is pretty much the same as FD, the tax treatment is much better as you will not be paying any taxes on the capital gains after one year. You can therefore park your money here and redeem it in a tax free manner for any needs in an ongoing basis. Arbitrage funds are also quite risk free as far as your capital is concerned, unlike equity funds.

Regular Debt funds or FMP, MIP etc will work if your time frame is at least 3 years. This is the time you need to keep your money to get indexation benefits for LTCG. Note here that with the Cost Inflation Index ( CII ) being dampened due to lower inflation numbers, you will still need to pay some taxes but this would be on a much lower scale. Also, as the interest rates will go up, Debt funds and MIP are likely to have a lower return. We are pretty much at the bottom of the cycle and rates will go up in the next 1-2 years. Finally MIP will do very well if equities are doing well but therein lies the risk too.

In conclusion for the first category of people, use the following strategies:-

  • If you are OK with a little risk go for MIP and Debt funds.
  • If you are having lower risk taking ability but can wait 3 years or more go for FMP. Here too you can look at Dual Advantage FMP if some risk is all right.
  • In case you do not have 3 years and are looking at moderate but steady returns, look at Arbitrage funds.
  • If you just want to save and are not going to need the money for long, look at PPF.

What about category 2 people? Many financial planners will advise you to withdraw from equity and part the money in debt some 3 years before your goal etc. I have never found any sense in this as you might really be losing out on growth by such actions. At the same time being purely in equity is not a good idea either. You need to take some middle path which balances the needs of both growth and safety.

  • Higher risk takers can try Equity Savings Funds or Balanced Funds.
  • Moderate risk takers can try MIP, Dual Advantage FMP, Debt funds
  • Risk averse investors can try FMP, Liquid funds, Arbitrage funds

Note here that the higher risk options are more suited to 3 years plus time frame.

So, there you have it. Now that you know what to do with your money which is in bank FD’s, go ahead and stop those. You will soon thank me for having written this post !!

FMP investments may not pay off now

Followers of my blog will know that I have significant investments in Fixed Maturity Plans of fund houses. These were undoubtedly the best instruments till 2014 where the LTCG indexation was available after 1 year as opposed to 3 years for other debt funds. In that period all capital gains from FMP were akin to tax free income for me

While the Finance minister changed the LTCG time frame to 3 years in the budget of 2014, FMP was still a viable instrument if you were willing to hold it for 3 years. The reasonable returns, coupled with the indexation benefits made it more attractive than many other Debt funds. Personally, I rolled over all my FMP investments to 3 years and that worked quite well for me – I used the capital gains for my regular expenses, mostly discretionary ones, and reinvested the principal amount in FMP or other hybrid funds. Of late I have preferred Hybrid funds rather than pure Debt focused FMP.

So why do I say now that this is no longer something which can pay off? There are two broad trends in this space that forms the basis of my opinion. Firstly, with the lowering of inflation and consequently the interest rates any fresh FMP will be likely to give returns only between 7 % and 7.5 %. Remember that by it’s very nature FMP’s invest in securities at the start of term and hold it till maturity. While this provides good downside protection, it obviously does not work well when the interest rate cycle reverses direction. For example even if the interest rates increase by 100 basis points next year, the 3 year FMP I start now will not get any benefit from the same. 

Secondly, with the inflation rates in the economy having a downward trend, the Cost Inflation Index is rising at a much slower pace than before. As a result the indexation benefits one was used to getting earlier will be significantly lower now. In real terms this means higher capital gains after indexation and therefore a higher tax liability. These two factors combined will mean that your effective post tax returns from FMP will be much lower than it used to be 2 years back.

Let me try to illustrate this with a real life example from my portfolio below:-

  • An ICICI FMP bought in November 2013 and rolled over subsequently has now matured in July 2017.
  • Purchase cost was 1 lac, Redemption was done at 1, 34, 529 Rs and the indexed purchase cost with application of new CII was 1, 19, 809 Rs.
  • Capital gains after indexation is therefore 14, 720 Rs. Tax on it @ 20 % is 2944 Rs.
  • Effective returns over 3.5 years is therefore 31.5 %
  • CAGR over this period will be only 8 %

Now while a post tax return of nearly 8 % is definitely not bad in today’s scenario, remember that this will keep getting worse and will be a lot lower for an FMP you are entering today for the next 3 years.

Now if we agree that FMP is not the preferred instrument of investment right now, the question remains as to where can we invest then? I will recommend Hybrid funds that have some exposure to equity apart from debt. Look at the following options:-

  • Dual Advantage Funds among FMP space
  • Equity Savings Funds
  • Monthly Income Plans
  • Dynamic Funds

All these will come with some risk exposure but 3 years on our markets should be doing better than today anyway.

Debt investments which have worked well for me lately

As many of my readers will know well by now, I am a great advocate of the 3 portfolio strategy with Debt, Stocks and MF each having an important place. Of these, stocks and MF are typically for the long term and something I will normally not redeem in the next decade at least and maybe even later. Debt is different – in my FI state I depend on it for passive income and use some of this for my regular expenditure. 

One of the obvious approaches in debt investments is to understand the interest rate cycle and try to lock investments for a possible longer term, in order to maximise your interest earning out of these. While there is a bit of luck and speculation involved in this, if you are following the economy properly, it is possible to get these signals correct more often than not. A few of the situations in the past years which has really stood me in good stead are as follows:-

  • I normally put some amount as FD for my parents so that they get a monthly amount to supplement their income. I consolidated a larger amount in 2015 and locked it in for 3 years at a rate of 9.5 %. Current rates are 7.5 % only.
  • Despite several people advising me against it, I went ahead and invested in a big manner in the Tax free bonds of 2013-2014. The rates were close to 9 % and today it gives me an interest to meet nearly 25 % of my annual expenditure needs.
  • Our earlier POMIS matured in December 2015 with a rate of 8 %. I reinvested 9 lacs in a joint account with my wife at a rate of 8.4 %. Today the rate is 7.5 % or so.
  • In the 2013-2015 period I rolled over most of my FMP schemes as the rates of interest were favourable and it made sense to lock these in further. 
  • I also invested fresh into many FMP schemes as it seemed a good idea to have investments which locked into government papers at the then prevailing rates.
  • I continued my investments in PPF even though the rates kept coming down based on the alignment of Small savings schemes to the market rates. The EEE nature of it plus the possibility of a rate increase when the cycle reverses make it worthwhile.

While all of these were great till 2015 or so, since the last year, with the rates going down steadily with each RBI policy, Debt instruments have become more of a challenge. For all the instruments that are maturing today, one needs to look into alternatives that will give decent returns compared to a pure debt product.

In the meantime however, I am quite happy with the above decisions I had made. The best of them were definitely the investment in Tax free bonds.

FMP redemption – a case study in April

As all my regular readers will know, a lot of my debt investment have been historically into FMP instruments. The basic premise of this is simple – it is a safe investment with relatively stable interest rates you can lock into for 3 years or more, the indexation benefits are good and consequently the taxes are reasonably low. If you want to read more about why I invest in it you can go through the FMP related blog posts.

The way I approach FMP redemption proceeds can be summarised as below:-

  • The capital gains are used for my regular expenditure if required. These form a good part of my passive income stream and, more often than not, I use it for some discretionary expenses.
  • I normally reinvest the principal amount in some other debt instrument, it could be FMP again or something else depending on the context of time.

So far in April, 3 of my FMP investments have been redeemed and the overall details are as follows:-

  • The principal amount in these three were 7 lacs.
  • Total capital gains arising out of these redemption is 2.25 lacs. In terms of XIRR it translates to around 9.75 % which is pretty good.
  • At this point in time, I do not really need the capital gains for my expenditure. This is mainly due to my active income through Consultancy which is more than adequate to take care of my regular and discretionary expenses.

Based on the above considerations I have decided to invest 9 lacs out of the redemption amount. In the present interest rate cycle, investing in pure debt products will really not make sense. As such, I am looking at the following distribution:-

  • Dual advantage FMP which invest in equity to a small extent.
  • Close ended equity funds such as Sundaram long term micro cap fund.
  • Equity savings funds.
  • MIPs
  • Funds such as ICICI Balanced Advantage fund or Edelweiss Absolute Return fund.

As some of these funds are dependent on market levels, I will be waiting for the annual results to be out. My feeling is Nifty will get down to below 9000 levels shortly and that will be a good time for me to buy these instruments.

 

How should you invest in Debt instruments now

While the current economic and business scenario is rather worrying for most investors, there are also opportunities that present themselves in the current context. If you look at your Debt allocation now, you may be worried about what you should be doing about the low returns that are already there and will possibly get far worse. 

Let us see what is likely to happen in the different types of debt instruments, based on the current situation and what you can do about it:-

  • There will be a secular reduction in interest rates and we will probably get back to the 2004-2005 situation. The one difference from there will be that the rates may not rise again the way it did at that time.
  • Assuming the rates are going to be staying here or get lower in the near future, it makes a great deal of sense to lock in investments now. Look at the ubiquitous FD, Post office MIS or Dynamic Bond funds.
  • Capital protection plans will be a good idea now, look at available schemes from good fund houses and select ones with 3-5 years duration.
  • FMP investment may also be a good idea but make sure you do it in the next month or so and be clear about the return expectations.
  • If you are looking at Debt MF, try the Duration funds with a time frame of 3-5 years. At this point of time, do not go for funds with longer duration.
  • In the present context a return of 7 % or anything more will be quite good if you are going for pure debt.
  • Rates in PPF and SSY will reduce but these are long term instruments and therefore investors should continue with them.

Given that a fair amount of my portfolio is in Debt, what are my plans for it? Let me first say that in 2016 at least, the performance of Debt has actually been better than equity. Here is what I have and how I plan to deal with it:-

  • Tax free bonds give me an interest of 8.9 % now. Even though I am having handsome capital gains from it, I plan not to sell them and keep getting the interest.
  • PPF accounts for me and my wife – I plan to continue both and invest the maximum permitted in 2017 also.
  • My FMP plans have given me pretty good returns, in several cases over 10 %. The ones getting redeemed will need to be deployed elsewhere.
  • As of now regular FMP does not make much sense – I plan to go for Dual Advantage funds, Short duration Debt funds, Balanced funds or MIP.
  • In general, it will be a good idea to invest in instruments which are hybrid in nature and not just pure debt in the next one year.

How you deal with your money is something you have to decide – make sure you understand the entire landscape, listen to sensible advice and take the right decisions.

Small savings rates and market alignment

In the budget this year, one of the significant announcements was that the small savings rates in the various schemes will be aligned to the market rates. From an economic viewpoint this is unexceptional – after all it does not make much sense for the government to pay you more than what the market is offering you on similar instruments, often coupled with a higher level of risk.

However, i was somewhat skeptical with this announcement as similar attempts have been made before and not much had come out of it. In case you follow the annual chaos that often accompanies the fixing of PF rates every year, you will probably get what I am trying to say here. The basic issue is this – there is a very strong constituency which invests in these products and it is not easy to disregard them for any government. Over the years dependence on these products have reduced to some extent, thus making is possible to reduce the rates significantly over time. Nevertheless, it will be quite another matter to make the rates completely market linked without raising a lot of hue and cry.

In the actual event the rates were changed for the first quarter, left untouched for the second quarter and have only been marginally tinkered with in this quarter. So the PPF rates are still 8 % and the SSY rates are at 8.5 %. If you look at these rates being market linked as per the declared policy then we are about 50 basis points higher today. The chances are that the rates will hold for the current FY and further reductions will happen in the April 2017 quarter.

What does this really mean for your investments in schemes such as PPF and SSY? Consider the following :-

  • These are part of your debt allocation, so cut out the noise and do not try to compare it ever to equity returns.
  • Understand that though the rates will probably not be completely market linked, over the next 2 years or so they are very likely to go down further.
  • I feel that PPF rates can go down to 7 % in the next year or so. The SSY rates will generally be 50 basis points higher than the PPF rates.
  • 7 % tax free returns on your money is still worth quite a lot. At the highest tax bracket you will need to earn more than 10 % from an instrument whose returns are taxed, in order to match this. There are simply no such instruments.
  • If you are not needing income out of your investments, just keeping them where they are makes a great deal of sense.

Remember, these are long term products and will also get benefited by the interest rate cycle. Over the next 5 years or so interest rates will rise again and all your investments earning a tax free return will be a bonanza then. Furthermore in a low inflation regime any real rate of return that is guaranteed along with tax breaks will always make eminent sense. Debt has a specific place in your portfolio, understand and act accordingly.

What are my plans on these schemes? Well, I have a long running PPF account and my wife has restarted her account 3 years back. Till the rates are at 7.5 % levels I plan to keep contributing regularly to it. At the current rates today, we earn sufficiently from it to cover about 50 % of our annual expenses. Assuming we keep investing 3 lacs in it for the next 7 years or so, the income generated from these accounts will probably cover our entire annual expenses at that time.

The only caveat to this is any possible changes in the tax treatment of these schemes. I do not think that is likely, given the difficulties that the government is facing in aligning the rates to the m