Comparison: Short-term gilt vs. long-term gilt vs. Ultra short-term mutual funds

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Here is a comparison between three types of funds (by choosing one in each category): Short-term gilts funds, Long-term gilt funds and ultra short-term gilt funds. In this post, I would like to reiterate a point made earlier about staying away from gilt funds unless we know how to trade in accordance with interest cycle movements.

Gilts do not have any credit risk. That does not mean they are devoid of risk. The NAV of gilt funds are marked to market. That is, the value of the bonds in the portfolio will equal the current market value. So when interest rates increase, the NAV falls and when rates decrease, the NAV increases. To understand this in detail, please refer to Understanding Interest Rate Risk in Debt Mutual Funds.

Long-term gilt funds hold GOI bonds that mature after several years:  Above 4.5 years if we use Value Research classification.

Short-term gilt funds: same as above with maturity below 4.5 years.

Ultra-short term: Funds can invest in any type of bond – GOI, corporate debentures, PSU debentures, bank certificate of deposits etc.

The advantage with this class is that, both interest rate risk and credit risk is minimised. The assumption here is that the fund manager does not buy too much of any one corporate or GOI bond like JP Morgan did. Read more: Lessons from the JP Morgan – Amtek Auto Debacle.

I have earlier shown using last 12-year annual returns that, although the gilt funds produce spectacular returns for a year or two, unless the investor books profit periodically, the gains would be erased by the interest cycle. Therefore, when it comes to investing in debt mutual funds: slow and steady wins the race!

Instead of returns, let us at how the NAV of following (randomly selected) funds evolve for different periods using  thefundoo’s awesome return comparison tool

short-term gilt fund – SBI Magnum Gilt Short-term plan (green line)

long-term gilt fund – Baroda Pioneer Gilt (violet)

ultra-short-term fund – HDFC Cash Management Treasury Advantage Plan.  (yellow)

Click on the images to enlarge.

Over last 3 months.
Over last 3 months.
last 6 months. Notice how wildly the NAV can swing for long-term gilt funds. Volatility is lower, but not absent for short-term gilts.
last 6 months. Notice how wildly the NAV can swing for long-term gilt funds. Volatility is lower, but not absent for short-term gilts.
Over last 1 Year.
Over last 1 Year.
Over last 3 years
Over last 3 years
Over last 5 years
Over last 5 years
over last 9 plus years
over last 9 plus years
over last 16 plus years
over last 16 plus years

Conclusions

  1. There is not much difference between ultra short-term  and short-term gilt funds  in terms of returns. The sharp gains made by short-term gilts are are gradually erased in time. So I see no point in having them part of a investment portfolio.
  2. Long-term gilts are a terrible choice for a long-term portfolio.
  3. Short-term gilts are better for opportunistic investing to take advantage of rate movements than long-term gilts. We will not gain as much as long-term gilts when rate come down, but we will also not lose as much.

Sankaran Naren, the CIO of ICICI Pru AMC, made an interesting remark in an interview: ‘I prefer to trade in fixed income and invest in equity’. I guess he was referring to timing the bond market and buying long-term gilts funds before the rate cuts begin, and exiting before the rates start to increase again.

Thanks to Mr. Raghu Ramamurthy for encouraging me to make this comparison.

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About the Author M Pattabiraman author of freefincal.comM. Pattabiraman is the co-author of two books: You can be rich too with goal based investing and Gamechanger. “Pattu” as he is popularly known, publishes unbiased, promotion-free research, analysis and holistic money management advice. Freefincal serves more than one million readers a year with numbers based analysis on topical issues and has more than a 100 free calculators on different aspects of insurance and investment analysis, including a robo advisory template for use by beginners. Contact information: freefincal {at} Gmail {dot} com He conducts free money management sessions for corporates (see details below). Previous engagements include World Bank, RBI, BHEL, Asian Paints.

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1 Comment

  1. Even in case of Ultra Short Term fund, what if any of company defaulted..!, will result in erasing of all earnings say Tarus as an e.g
    So For long term Debt saving – instrument, its Gilt -Short Term only, though interest earned is marginally low.

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