zaterdag 11 februari 2012

            Don't write off structured products

Published: 00:00 February 11, 2012
Gulf News

Around 10 years ago, structured products found their way into the portfolio of numerous affluent investors. In the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, these products were often portrayed in a very negative light, even described as too complex and unpredictable. But are they really that damaging? Or do they offer opportunities for individual investors?

What is a structured note?

Typically, investment banks or their affiliates develop pre-packaged investments that provide possible returns in a pre-defined performance field. The field is determined by two elements — the level of capital protection so required by the investor, and a derivative which links the investment with an underlying index, a currency, a single security or a basket of securities.
For those new to the investment scene, a derivative is a contract between two or more parties, (like an option, futures contract, or swap), with the value of the contract determined by fluctuations in the underlying asset.
Complexity: As a candidate investor, it is important to keep in mind that a structured note is not always a simple debt security like a government or corporate bond.
Failing to fully understand a structured product causes disappointment or worse. While a structured note may appear complex, taking the time to explore and educate yourself will help you in embedding these instruments as part of your actively managed portfolio.
Structured notes do provide investors with a level of capital protection, against any significant loss on the invested amount in a derivative. Be advised, however, that capital protection, although it sounds attractive, should never be the primary driver to invest in a product. If you don't want to take any unnecessary risk, it is better to keep your wealth in cash.

Risks: As an investor you know that the ‘too good to be true' opportunity doesn't exist. While considering a structured note, you should review the following risks:
Exposure to credit risk or counter-party risk: This means that the issuer or the guarantor of the note may not able to meet the obligation to pay you back at maturity.
As an individual investor, it is not easy to assess the credibility of an issuer and, therefore, it is advisable to consult some rating bureaus online. For those who invest frequently in structured products, it is important not to put all your eggs into one basket. You should diversify your portfolio not only by asset class but also by issuers.

Liquidity: Structured products are not always liquid and rarely trade once issued. This means invest only with money you can keep aside till the product matures. Investors looking to sell a structured product before maturity should also be ready to sell it at a significant discount. In general it is clear that these products are not made for speculation on price fluctuations.

Regulations: An August 2009 circular issued by the UAE Central Bank requires all banks operating in the UAE to take explicit Central Bank approval for any structured product they wish to offer customers.
The Central Bank took this move to avoid future defaults, following liquidity issues at UAE and GCC banks after the global financial crisis. Although the liquidity issues have since been resolved, make sure your relationship manager provides you with the Central Bank approved term sheet, before you sign up.
Structured products can add value to your portfolio if they fit your overall strategy. They are a good value-add for a well-diversified portfolio if used with complete understanding and awareness about the underlying mechanism. Given these turbulent times, they can even act as a protection steer while enhancing returns for an educated investor.                               

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