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

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Structured Notes

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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Investor Education

Ranking Asset Classes by Historical Returns (1985-2020)

What are the best-performing investments in 2020, and how do previous years compare? This graphic shows historical returns by asset class.

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Historical Returns by Asset Class

Historical Returns by Asset Class (1985-2020)

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, is there one asset class to rule them all?

From stocks to bonds to alternatives, investors can choose from a wide variety of investment types. The choices can be overwhelming—leaving people to wonder if there’s one investment that consistently outperforms, or if there’s a predictable pattern of performance.

This graphic, which is inspired by and uses data from The Measure of a Plan, shows historical returns by asset class for the last 36 years.

Asset Class Returns by Year

This analysis includes assets of various types, geographies, and risk levels. It uses real total returns, meaning that they account for inflation and the reinvestment of dividends.

Here’s how the data breaks down, this time organized by asset class rather than year:

 U.S. Large Cap StocksU.S. Small Cap StocksInt'l Dev StocksEmerging StocksAll U.S. BondsHigh-Yield U.S. BondsInt'l BondsCash (T-Bill)REITGold
TickerVFIAXVSMAXVTMGXVEMAXVBTLXVWEAXVTABXVUSXXVGSLXIAU
2020*1.5%-5.5%-10.3%-0.7%4.9%-0.5%2.6%-0.7%-16.4%21.9%
201928.5%24.5%19.3%17.6%6.3%13.3%5.5%-0.1%26.1%15.9%
2018-6.2%-11.0%-16.1%-16.2%-1.9%-4.7%1.0%-0.1%-7.7%-3.2%
201719.3%13.8%23.8%28.7%1.4%4.9%0.3%-1.3%2.8%9.3%
20169.7%15.9%0.4%9.5%0.5%9.0%2.5%-1.8%6.3%6.6%
20150.6%-4.3%-0.9%-16.0%-0.3%-2.0%0.3%-0.7%1.6%-12.3%
201412.8%6.7%-6.4%-0.2%5.1%3.9%8.0%-0.7%29.3%-1.2%
201330.4%35.8%20.3%-6.4%-3.6%3.1%-0.4%-1.5%0.9%-29.0%
201214.0%16.2%16.5%16.8%2.4%12.5%4.5%-1.7%15.7%6.5%
2011-0.9%-5.5%-15.0%-21.0%4.6%4.2%0.8%-2.9%5.5%5.5%
201013.4%26.0%6.8%17.2%5.0%10.9%1.7%-1.5%26.6%26.0%
200923.3%32.7%24.9%71.5%3.2%35.6%1.6%-2.4%26.3%20.2%
2008-37.0%-36.1%-41.3%-52.8%5.1%-21.3%5.5%2.0%-37.0%5.4%
20071.3%-2.7%6.8%33.6%2.8%-1.8%0.1%0.7%-19.7%25.8%
200612.9%12.9%23.1%26.3%1.8%5.7%0.5%2.1%31.8%19.3%
20051.4%3.9%9.8%27.7%-0.9%-0.5%1.8%-0.5%8.3%13.0%
20047.3%16.2%16.5%22.1%1.0%5.2%1.8%-2.0%26.7%1.4%
200326.2%43.1%36.1%54.7%2.1%15.1%0.4%-0.9%33.3%19.2%
2002-23.9%-21.8%-17.6%-9.6%5.8%-0.6%4.2%-0.7%1.3%20.8%
2001-13.3%1.6%-23.1%-4.4%6.8%1.3%4.6%2.6%10.7%-0.4%
2000-12.0%-5.8%-17.1%-29.9%7.7%-4.1%5.4%2.5%22.2%-9.6%
199917.9%19.9%23.6%57.3%-3.4%-0.2%-0.6%2.0%-6.5%-1.7%
199826.6%-4.2%18.0%-19.4%6.9%3.9%10.2%3.5%-17.7%-2.4%
199731.0%22.5%0.0%-18.2%7.6%10.0%8.9%3.5%16.8%-23.2%
199618.9%14.3%2.6%12.1%0.3%6.0%8.3%1.9%31.4%-7.7%
199534.0%25.6%8.4%-1.9%15.3%16.2%14.3%3.1%10.0%-1.7%
1994-1.5%-3.1%4.9%-10.1%-5.2%-4.3%-7.3%1.3%0.4%-4.9%
19937.0%15.5%28.9%69.4%6.7%15.1%10.7%0.2%16.3%13.9%
19924.4%14.9%-14.7%7.8%4.1%11.0%3.3%0.6%11.2%-8.7%
199126.3%40.9%8.7%54.5%11.8%25.2%7.5%2.5%31.5%-12.5%
1990-8.9%-22.8%-27.9%-16.1%2.4%-11.3%-2.7%1.6%-20.3%-8.3%
198925.5%11.0%5.6%56.9%8.6%-2.6%-0.6%3.7%3.9%-6.8%
198811.3%19.7%22.8%33.9%2.8%8.8%4.4%2.1%8.6%-19.6%
19870.3%-12.7%19.3%9.3%-2.8%-1.7%4.5%1.3%-7.8%19.0%
198616.8%4.5%67.5%10.4%13.9%15.6%10.1%5.0%17.7%17.9%
198526.4%26.2%50.3%22.9%17.6%17.5%7.0%3.8%14.6%1.7%

*Data for 2020 is as of October 31

The top-performing asset class so far in 2020 is gold, with a return more than four times that of second-place U.S. bonds. On the other hand, real estate investment trusts (REITs) have been the worst-performing investments. Needless to say, economic shutdowns due to COVID-19 have had a devastating effect on commercial real estate.

Over time, the order is fairly random with asset classes moving up and down the ranks. For example, emerging market stocks plummeted to last place amid the global financial crisis in 2008, only to rise to the top the following year. International bonds were near the bottom of the barrel in 2017, but rose to the top during the 2018 market selloff.

There are also large swings in the returns investors can expect in any given year. While the best-performing asset class returned just 1% in 2018, it returned a whopping 71.5% in 2009.

Variation Within Asset Classes

Within individual asset classes, the range in returns can also be quite large. Here’s the minimum, maximum, and average returns for each asset class. We’ve also shown each investment’s standard deviation, which is a measure of volatility or risk.

Return Variation Within Asset Classes Over History

Although emerging market stocks have seen the highest average return, they have also seen the highest standard deviation. On the flip side, T-bills have seen returns lower than inflation since 2009, but have come with the lowest risk.

Investors should factor in risk when they are looking at the return potential of an asset class.

Variety is the Spice of Portfolios

Upon reviewing the historical returns by asset class, there’s no particular investment that has consistently outperformed. Rankings have changed over time depending on a number of economic variables.

However, having a variety of asset classes can ensure you are best positioned to take advantage of tailwinds in any particular year. For instance, bonds have a low correlation with stocks and can cushion against losses during market downturns.

If your mirror could talk, it would tell you there’s no one asset class to rule them all—but a mix of asset classes may be your best chance at success.

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Mining

How to Avoid Common Mistakes With Mining Stocks (Part 4: Project Quality)

Mining is a technical field that manages complex factors from geology to engineering. These details can make or break a project.

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Quality Mining Projects

Mining is a technical field and requires a comprehension of many complex factors.

This includes everything from the characteristics of an orebody to the actual extraction method envisioned and used—and the devil is often found in these technical details.

Part 4: Evaluating Technical Risks and Project Quality

We’ve partnered with Eclipse Gold Mining on an infographic series to show you how to avoid common mistakes when evaluating and investing in mining exploration stocks.

Here is a basic introduction to some technical and project quality characteristics to consider when looking at your next mining investment.

Mining Project Quality

View the three other parts of this series so far:

Part 4: Technical Risks and Project Quality

So what must investors evaluate when it comes to technical risks and project quality?

Let’s take a look at four different factors.

1. Grade: Reliable Hen Vs. Golden Goose

Once mining starts, studies have to be adapted to reality. A mine needs to have the flexibility and robustness to adjust pre-mine plans to the reality of execution.

A “Golden Goose” will just blunder ahead and result in failure after failure due to lack of flexibility and hoping it will one day produce a golden egg.

Many mining projects can come into operation quickly based on complex and detailed studies of a mineral deposit. However, it requires actual mining to prove these studies.

Some mining projects fail to achieve nameplate tonnes and grade once production begins. However, a team response to varying grades and conditions can still make a mine into a profitable mine or a “Reliable Hen.”

2. Money: Piggy Bank vs. Money Pit

The degree of insight into a mineral deposit and the appropriate density of data to support the understanding is what leads to a piggy bank or money pit.

Making a project decision on poor understanding of the geology and limited information leads to the money pit of just making things work.

Just like compound interest, success across many technical aspects increases revenue exponentially, but it can easily go the other way if not enough data is used to make a decision to put a project into production.

3. Environment: Responsible vs. Reckless

Not all projects are situated in an ideal landscape for mining. There are environmental and social factors to consider. A mining company that takes into account these facts has a higher chance of going into production.

Mineral deposits do not occur in convenient locations and require the disruption of the natural environment. Understanding how a mining project will impact its surroundings goes a long way to see whether the project is viable.

4. Team: Orchestra vs. One-Man Band

Mining is a complex and technical industry that relies on many skilled professionals with clear leadership, not just one person doing all the work.

Geologists, accountants, laborers, engineers, and investor relations officers are just some of the roles that a CEO or management team needs to deliver a profitable mine. A good leader will be the conductor of the varying technical teams allowing each to play their best at the right time.

Mining 101: Mining Valuation and Methods

In order to further consider a mining project’s quality, it is important to understand how the company is valued and how it plans to mine a mineral resource.

Valuation

There are two ways to look at the value of a mining project:

  1. The Discounted Cash Flow method estimates the present value of the cash that will come from a mining project over its life.
  2. In-situ Resource Value is a metric that values all the metal in the ground to give an estimate of the dollar value of those resources.

Mining Method

The location of the ore deposit and the quantity of its grade will determine what mining method a company will choose to extract the valuable ore.

  1. Open-pit mining removes valuable ore that is relatively near the surface of the Earth’s crust using power trucks and shovels to move large volumes of rock. Typically, it is a lower cost mining method, meaning lower grades of ore are economic to mine.
  2. Underground mining occurs when the ore body is too deep to mine profitably by open-pit. In other words, the quality of the orebody is high enough to cover the costs of complex engineering underneath the Earth’s crust.

When Technicals and Quality Align

This is a brief overview of where to begin a technical look at a mining project, but typically helps to form some questions for the average investor to consider.

Everything from the characteristics of an orebody to the actual extraction method will determine whether a project can deliver a healthy return to the investor.

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