Structured Notes: The Secret to Improving Your Risk/Return Profile?
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Structured Notes: The Secret to Improving Your Risk/Return Profile?

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Structured Notes

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.

  1. Maturity – The term typically falls within 3 to 5 years.
  2. Payoff – The amount the investor receives at maturity.
  3. Underlying asset – The note’s performance is linked to the price return (excluding dividends) of an asset, such as stocks, ETFs, or foreign currencies.
  4. 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.

Growth 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 returnGrowth Note Return
50%58.5%
10%11.7%
-10%0%
-50%-20%

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.

Income Notes

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.
structured notes

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.

Portfolio Applications

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:

RegionAUM (2019 Q2)
Americas$434B
Europe$526B
Asia Pacific$1,066B

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.

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Thematic Investing: 3 Key Trends in Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks are becoming more frequent and sophisticated. Here’s what investors need to know about the future of cybersecurity.

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The following content is sponsored by Global X ETFs
Global X BUG ETF Global X BUG ETF Holdings

Thematic Investing: 3 Key Trends in Cybersecurity

In 2020, the global cost of cybercrime was estimated to be around $945 billion, according to McAfee.

It’s likely even higher today, as multiple sources have recorded an increase in the frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks during the pandemic.

In this infographic from Global X ETFs, we highlight three major trends that are shaping the future of the cybersecurity industry that investors need to know.

Trend 1: Increasing Costs

Research from IBM determined that the average data breach cost businesses $4.2 million in 2021, up from $3.6 million in 2017. The following table breaks this figure into four components:

Cost ComponentValue ($)
Cost of lost business$1.6M
Detection and escalation$1.2M
Post breach response$1.1M
Notification$0.3M
Total$4.2M

The greatest cost of a data breach is lost business, which results from system downtimes, reputational losses, and lost customers. Second is detection and escalation, including investigative activities, audit services, and communications to stakeholders.

Post breach response includes costs such as legal expenditures, issuing new accounts or credit cards (in the case of financial institutions), and other monitoring services. Lastly, notification refers to the cost of notifying regulators, stakeholders, and other third parties.

To stay ahead of these rising costs, businesses are placing more emphasis on cybersecurity. For example, Microsoft announced in September 2021 that it would quadruple its cybersecurity investments to $20 billion over the next five years.

Trend 2: Remote Work Opens New Vulnerabilities

According to IBM, companies that rely more on remote work experience greater losses from data breaches. For companies where 81 to 100% of employees were remote, the average cost of a data breach was $5.5 million (2021). This dropped to $3.7 million for companies that had under 10% of employees working from home.

A major reason for this gap is that work-from-home setups are typically less secure. Phishing attacks surged in 2021, taking advantage of the fact that many employees access corporate systems through their personal devices.

Type of AttackNumber of attacks in 2020Number of attacks in 2021Growth (%)
Spam phishing1.5M10.1M+573%
Credential phishing5.5M6.2M+13%

As detected by Trend Micro’s Cloud App Security.

Spam phishing refers to “fake” emails that trick users by impersonating company management. They can include malicious links that download ransomware onto the users device. Credential phishing is similar in concept, though the goal is to steal a person’s account credentials.

A tactic you may have seen before is the Amazon scam, where senders impersonate Amazon and convince users to update their payment methods. This strategy could also be used to gain access to a company’s internal systems.

Trend 3: AI Can Reduce the Cost of a Data Breach

AI-based cybersecurity can detect and respond to cyberattacks without any human intervention. When fully deployed, IBM measured a 20% reduction in the time it takes to identify and contain a breach. It also resulted in cost savings upwards of 60%.

A prominent user of AI-based cybersecurity is Google, which uses machine learning to detect phishing attacks within Gmail.

Machine learning helps Gmail block spam and phishing messages from showing up in your inbox with over 99.9% accuracy. This is huge, given that 50-70% of messages that Gmail receives are spam.
– Andy Wen, Google

As cybercrime escalates, Acumen Research and Consulting believes the market for AI-based security solutions will reach $134 billion by 2030, up from $15 billion in 2021.

Introducing the Global X Cybersecurity ETF

The Global X Cybersecurity ETF (Ticker: BUG) seeks to provide investment results that correspond generally to the price and yield performance, before fees and expenses, of the Indxx Cybersecurity Index. See below for industry and country-level breakdowns, as of June 2022.

Sector (By security type)Weight
Cloud28.0%
Network25.1%
Identity17.7%
Internet15.0%
Endpoint12.8%
CountryWeight
🇺🇸 U.S.71.6%
🇮🇱 Israel13.2%
🇬🇧 UK8.2%
🇯🇵 Japan5.5%
🇰🇷 South Korea0.9%
🇨🇦 Canada0.6%

Totals may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Investors can use this passively managed solution to gain exposure to the rising adoption of cybersecurity technologies.

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Investor Education

Countries with the Highest Default Risk in 2022

In this infographic, we examine new data that ranks the top 25 countries by their default risk.

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Countries with the Highest Default Risk in 2022

In May 2022, the South Asian nation of Sri Lanka defaulted on its debt for the first time. The country’s government was given a 30-day grace period to cover $78 million in unpaid interest, but ultimately failed to pay.

Not only does this impact Sri Lanka’s economic future, but it also raises an important question: which other countries are at risk of default?

To find out, we’ve used data from Bloomberg to rank the countries with the highest default risk.

The Sovereign Debt Vulnerability Ranking

Bloomberg’s Sovereign Debt Vulnerability Ranking is a composite measure of a country’s default risk. It’s based on four underlying metrics:

  • Government bond yields (the weighted-average yield of the country’s dollar bonds)
  • 5-year credit default swap (CDS) spread
  • Interest expense as a percentage of GDP
  • Government debt as a percentage of GDP

To better understand this ranking, let’s focus on Ukraine and El Salvador as examples.

CountryRankGovernment Bond
Yield (%)
5Y CDS SpreadInterest Expense
(% of GDP)
Government Debt
(% of GDP)
🇸🇻 El Salvador131.8%3,376 bps
(33.76%)
4.9%82.6%
🇺🇦 Ukraine860.4%10,856 bps
(100.85%)
2.9%49%

1 basis point (bps) = 0.01%

Why are Ukraine’s Bond Yields so High?

Ukraine has high default risk due to its ongoing conflict with Russia. To understand why, consider a scenario where Russia was to assume control of the country. If this happened, it’s possible that Ukraine’s existing debt obligations will never be repaid.

That scenario has prompted a sell-off of Ukrainian government bonds, pushing their value down to nearly 30 cents on the dollar. This means that a bond with face value of $100 could be purchased for $30.

Because yields move in the opposite direction of price, the average yield on these bonds has climbed to a very high 60.4%. As a point of comparison, the yield on a U.S. 10-year government bond is currently 2.9%.

What is a CDS Spread?

Credit default swaps (CDS) are a type of derivative (financial contract) that provides a lender with insurance in the event of a default. The seller of the CDS represents a third party between the lender (investors) and borrower (in this case, governments).

In exchange for receiving coverage, the buyer of a CDS pays a fee known as the spread, which is expressed in basis points (bps). If a CDS has a spread of 300 bps (3%), this means that to insure $100 in debt, the investor must pay $3 per year.

Applying this to Ukraine’s 5-year CDS spread of 10,856 bps (108.56%), an investor would need to pay $108.56 each year to insure $100 in debt. This suggests that the market has very little faith in Ukraine’s ability to avoid default.

Why is El Salvador Ranked Higher?

Despite having lower values in the two metrics discussed above, El Salvador ranks higher than Ukraine because of its larger interest expense and total government debt.

According to the data above, El Salvador has annual interest payments equal to 4.9% of its GDP, which is relatively high. Comparing to the U.S. once more, America’s federal interest costs amounted to 1.6% of GDP in 2020.

When totaled, El Salvador’s outstanding debts are equal to 82.6% of GDP. This is considered high by historical standards, but today it’s actually quite normal.

The next date to watch will be January 2023, as this is when the country’s $800 million sovereign bond reaches maturity. Recent research suggests that if El Salvador were to default, it would experience significant, yet temporary, negative effects.

Another Hot Topic for El Salvador: Bitcoin

In September 2021, El Salvador became the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender. This means that Bitcoin is recognized by law as a means to settle debts and other obligations.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticized this decision in early 2022, urging the country to revoke legal tender status. In hindsight, these warnings were wise, as Bitcoin’s value has fallen by 56% year-to-date.

While this isn’t directly related to El Salvador’s default risk, it does open potential avenues for relief. For instance, large players in the crypto space may be willing to assist the government to keep the concept of “nation-state bitcoin adoption” alive.

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