For those who have just started the long journey of investment and financial planning, the obvious question is: What are the products out there? Here is a brief introduction.
Cash and money market funds
- Cash or CDs (certificate of deposit) generate returns in terms of interest income. Money market funds, which comprise of high-quality, short-maturity debt instruments, give a yield similar to CDs but can be traded once a day. While they are the safest instruments, the return may not be high enough to compensate for inflation.
Stocks / Equities
- Owning a stock means owning a piece of a company. As an owner, you get the most benefit at good times, but take the most risk when bad. Statistically, this “high-risk-high-return” investment gives the best investment return on a long-term basis.
Bonds / Fixed-income products
- A bond is a loan made to the bonds’ issuer (e.g. government or corporations) by an investor (e.g. an individual). In return, the investor receives regular interest payment (the rate is called the yield) until the bond is matured, at which point the issuer repays the principal.
- At the same time, bonds can be traded in the market. Similar to stocks, bond prices go up and down depending on many factors, and this fluctuation affects the effective yield.
- Therefore, although bonds give fixed, regular interest income, they are by no means a riskless financial instrument.
FOREX (foreign currency exchange)
- Economies around the world use different types of currencies, creating the need to trade and exchange currencies.
- When we buy a stock or bond from a foreign country, we are inherently buying into FOREX. For example, you live in US and own shares in a French company. If euro is strengthening against US dollar, even if the shares stay unchanged you are already better off with a foreign exchange gain.
ETF (exchange traded funds)
- ETF is a basket of securities that tracks the performance of a stock, bond, or commodity index.
- It can be easily bought and sold in the market (same as stocks), gives you diversity (exposure to different industry/regional indices), and generally incur lower cost than mutual funds.
- Mutual fund is a portfolio of stock or bonds created for a particular industry, country or product. It can be traded once a day based on the price (called NAV, net asset value) calculated at the end of the day.
- Unlike ETFs, mutual funds are actively managed by fund managers and their performance could vary greatly.
Real estate / REIT
- The investment can be in the form of: (1) owing a physical property, (2) owning stocks of a publicly-listed property companies, or (3) owing shares in REIT (real estate investment trust).
- Real estate is an interesting and complicated type of investments and has a lot of unique properties; but in general, we can expect its investment return to fall between stocks and bonds on a long-term basis.
- Commodity products were once open to private wealth clients only.
- As energy and commodities kick into a big upward cycle, the products have become very popular and related funds /ETFs are being introduced to the mass market.
Apart from the above investment products, sophisticated investors may include structured products, hedge funds, private equity investments, and collectibles (e.g. antiques, fine arts, special editions) in their portfolios. The range and diversity of investment products could be endless!