Structured Notes: The Secret to Improving Your Risk/Return Profile?
Structured notes are gaining momentum in the market, with a whopping $2 trillion in assets under management (AUM) globally.
So why haven’t more investors heard of them?
Traditionally, structured notes had a $1 million minimum investment. They were only available to high-net-worth or institutional investors—but they are now becoming more accessible.
Today’s infographic from Halo Investing explains what structured notes are, outlines the two main types, and demonstrates how to implement them in a portfolio.
What is a Structured Note?
A structured note is a hybrid security, where approximately 80% is a bond component and 20% is an embedded derivative.
Structured notes are issued by major financial institutions. Since they are the liability of the issuer, it is critical that the investor is comfortable with the issuer—as with any bond purchase.
Almost all structured notes have four simple parameters.
- Maturity – The term typically falls within 3 to 5 years.
- Payoff – The amount the investor receives at maturity.
- Underlying asset – The note’s performance is linked to the price return (excluding dividends) of an asset, such as stocks, ETFs, or foreign currencies.
- Protection – The level of protection the investor receives if the underlying asset loses value.
As long as the underlying asset does not fall lower than the protection amount at maturity, the investor will receive their initial investment back in full.
This is the primary draw of structured notes: they provide a level of downside protection, while still allowing investors to participate in market upswings.
Types of Structured Notes
There are a variety of structured notes, providing investors with diverse options and a range of risk/return profiles. Structured notes generally fall into one of two broad categories: growth notes and income notes.
Investors receive a percentage—referred to as the participation rate—of the underlying asset’s price appreciation.
For example, a growth note has the following terms:
- Maturity: 5 years
- Participation rate: 117%
- Underlying asset: S&P 500 index
- Principal protection: 30%
Here’s what the payoff would look like in 4 different scenarios:
|S&P 500 return||Growth Note Return|
The S&P 500 can return a loss of up to 30%, the principal protection level in this example, before the note starts to lose value.
Over an income note’s life, investors receive a fixed payment known as a coupon. Income notes do not participate in the upside returns the way a growth note does—but they may generate a higher income stream than a standard debt security or dividend-paying stock.
This is because protection is offered for both the principal and the coupon payments. For example, say a note’s underlying asset is the S&P 500, and it pays an 8% coupon with 30% principal protection. If the S&P 500 trades sideways all year—sometimes slightly negative or positive—the note will still pay its 8% coupon due to the protection.
Income notes have another big advantage: their yields can spike in tumultuous markets, as was demonstrated during the market volatility near the end of 2018.
Why did this spike occur? Banks construct the derivative piece of an income note by selling options*, which are more expensive in volatile markets. Banks then collect these higher premiums, creating larger coupons inside the structured note.
Investors can diversify their return profile by using a combination of growth and income notes.
*Option contracts offer the buyer the opportunity to either buy or sell the underlying asset at a stated price within a specific timeframe. Unlike futures, the buyer is not forced to exercise the contract if they choose not to.
Structured notes are powerful tools that can accomplish almost any investment goal, and investors commonly use them as a core portfolio component.
- Step 1: Select a portfolio asset class where downside protection is desired.
- Step 2: Reallocate a portion of the asset class to a structured note
- Step 3: Improve risk/reward performance.
The asset class will demonstrate an enhanced return profile, with less downside risk.
A Global Market
While relatively small in the Americas, the structured notes market is growing on a global scale:
|Region||AUM (2019 Q2)|
In the first half of 2019, assets under management in the Americas was up by 4%. It’s clear the asset class presents enormous untapped potential—and investors are taking notice.
Lowering Barriers Through Technology
Technology is becoming more ingrained in wealth management—empowering investors to access structured notes more easily through efficient trading.
The market is already becoming more accessible. By 31 October 2019, the average transaction size had decreased by almost $500,000 over the year prior.
Technology also offers other benefits for investors:
- Improved analytics
- Investment education
- Risk information
- Increased competition = lower fees
- Improved secondary liquidity
As more investors take advantage of this asset class, they may be able to improve their return potential while limiting their risk.
The 20 Most Common Investing Mistakes, in One Chart
Here are the most common investing mistakes to avoid, from emotionally-driven investing to paying too much in fees.
The 20 Most Common Investing Mistakes
No one is immune to errors, including the best investors in the world.
Fortunately, investing mistakes can provide valuable lessons over time, providing investors an opportunity to gain insights on investing—and build more resilient portfolios.
This graphic shows the top 20 most common investing mistakes to watch out for, according to the CFA Institute.
20 Investment Mistakes to Avoid
From emotionally-driven investment decisions to paying too much on fees, here are some of the most common investing mistakes:
|Top 20 Mistakes||Description|
|1. Expecting Too Much||Having reasonable return expectations helps investors keep a long-term view without reacting emotionally.
|2. No Investment Goals||Often investors focus on short-term returns or the latest investment craze instead of their long-term investment goals.
|3. Not Diversifying||Diversifying prevents a single stock from drastically impacting the value of your portfolio.
|4. Focusing on the Short Term||It’s easy to focus on the short term, but this can make investors second-guess their original strategy and make careless decisions.
|5. Buying High and Selling Low||Investor behavior during market swings often hinders overall performance.
|6. Trading Too Much||One study shows that the most active traders underperformed the U.S. stock market by 6.5% on average annually. Source: The Journal of Finance
|7. Paying Too Much in Fees||Fees can meaningfully impact your overall investment performance, especially over the long run.
|8. Focusing Too Much on Taxes||While tax-loss harvesting can boost returns, making a decision solely based on its tax consequences may not always be merited.
|9. Not Reviewing Investments Regularly||Review your portfolio quarterly or annually to make sure you’re staying on track or if your portfolio is in need of rebalancing.
|10. Misunderstanding Risk||Too much risk can take you out of your comfort zone, but too little risk may result in lower returns that do not reach your financial goals. Recognize the right balance for your personal situation.
|11. Not Knowing Your Performance||Often, investors don’t actually know the performance of their investments. Review your returns to track if you are meeting your investment goals factoring in fees and inflation.
|12. Reacting to the Media||Negative news in the short-term can trigger fear, but remember to focus on the long run.
|13. Forgetting About Inflation||Historically, inflation has averaged 4% annually.
Value of $100 at 4% Annual Inflation
After 1 Year: $96
After 20 Years: $44
|14. Trying to Time the Market||Market timing is extremely hard. Staying in the market can generate much higher returns versus trying to time
the market perfectly.
|15. Not Doing Due Diligence||Check the credentials of your advisor through sites like BrokerCheck, which shows their employment history and complaints.
|16. Working With the Wrong Advisor||Taking the time to find the right advisor is worth it. Vet your advisor carefully to ensure your goals are aligned.
|17. Investing With Emotions||Although it can be challenging, remember to stay rational during market fluctuations.
|18. Chasing Yield||High-yielding investments often carry the highest risk. Carefully assess your risk profile before investing in these types of assets.
|19. Neglecting to Start||Consider two people investing $200 monthly assuming a 7% annual rate of return until the age of 65. If one person started at age 25, their end portfolio would be $520K, if the other started at 35 it would total about $245K.
|20. Not Controlling What You Can||While no one can predict the market, investors can control small contributions over time, which can have powerful outcomes.
For instance, not properly diversifying can expose you to higher risk. Holding one concentrated position can drastically impact the value of your portfolio when prices fluctuate.
In fact, one study shows that the optimal diversification for a large-cap portfolio is holding 15 stocks. In this way, it helps capture the highest possible return relative to risk. When it came to a small-cap portfolio, the number of stocks rose to 26 for optimal risk reduction.
It’s worth noting that one size does not fit all, and seeking financial advice can help you find the right balance based on your financial goals.
Another common mistake is trading too much. Since each trade can rake up fees, this can impact your overall portfolio performance. A separate study showed that the most active traders saw the worst returns, underperforming the U.S. stock market by 6.5% on average annually.
Finally, it’s important to carefully monitor your investments regularly as market conditions change, factoring in fees and inflation. This will let you know if your investments are on track, or if you need to adjust based on changing personal circumstances or other factors.
Controlling What You Can
To help avoid these common investing mistakes, investors can remember to stay rational and focus on their long-term goals. Building a solid portfolio often involves assessing the following factors:
- Financial goals
- Current income
- Spending habits
- Market environment
- Expected returns
With these factors in mind, investors can avoid focusing on short-term market swings, and control what they can. Making small investments over the long run can have powerful effects, with the potential to accumulate significant wealth simply by investing consistently over time.
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