Practical Implications of Asset Allocation

Asset allocation, despite its importance in portfolio management, is perhaps the last thing on the mind of the novice investor. Before regaling the virtues of asset allocation, a layman’s definition of asset allocation is perhaps warranted, so here goes: asset allocation is a process by which an investor aims to enhance the risk-reward ratio of a portfolio of risky assets. It is important to stress upon two things here: (1) asset allocation is not a one-time exercise, it is an ongoing process; and (2) the use of multiple asset classes to convert a portfolio of risky assets into a benign money-making machine.

Equipped with a basic understanding of the theory behind asset allocation what is stopping the novice investor from going ahead and enhancing portfolio returns? The reason is that the effect of asset of allocation rests largely on finding asset classes whose returns are uncorrelated with one another – the lower the correlation, the better. For instance, it is popular belief that gold is a hedge against inflation i.e. gold prices and inflation rates move in tandem. Therefore, what one loses in purchasing power is compensated by an increase in gold prices. This, however, is a long term phenomenon i.e. one may witness large deviations in the short term.

The key to benefiting from asset allocation, therefore, is to periodically tweak the portfolio for changes in correlations between asset classes and include new ones with the overall objective of enhancing the risk-reward ratio of a given portfolio. Although this may seem like too onerous a task, the novice investor need not worry. A certain level of diversification via asset allocation can be achieved by following the below steps:

  1. Ascertain whether you have surplus money to invest – a simple equation of income less expenses. The figure you ascertain will comprise your overall pie available for asset allocation.
  2. Understand your needs as defined by three key parameters viz. risk appetite, return requirements and time constraints. Your needs are a function of your age, marital status, number of dependants etc.
  3. Identify avenues to invest in the broadest categories of asset classes viz. equity, debt, commodities, real estate and alternative asset classes.
  4. Steps 2 and 3 will require a bit of periodic back and forth because the asset class(es) you choose will depend on your needs. E.g. someone with a higher risk appetite may have a higher percentage of equities in the pie than someone with a lower risk appetite. The latter investor may lean towards debt investments.

In summary, the age-old adage of not putting all of one’s eggs in one’s basket applies here. A systematic approach to asset allocation with disciplined and timely execution can ensure that investors, novice and otherwise, hold well-constructed portfolios and therefore benefit from asset allocation.

Vinay Basavaraj

Vinay boasts of a decade of experience working in both large and small organizations. His roles have ranged from sales to operations and even a stint in academia. He currently manages affairs in capital markets in Capital Float.

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The SME Lending Puzzle: Why Banks Fall Short

Let us consider the following hypothetical scenario:

ABC & Co., a small services firm, began operations in mid-2011. It reported a 40% jump in annual turnover from Rs. 5 Cr in FY 2012 to Rs. 7 Cr in FY 2013. As a startup, the company has not yet broken even and reported losses for consecutive years. The promoter is well educated, previously worked in organizations of repute for over a decade before deciding to float this venture. The short-term finance requirement of ABC & Co is about Rs. 40 lac for 90 days, but does not have any physical collateral to offer as security. At this stage, the promoter of ABC & Co. decides to approach banks and NBFCs in the market to fund this debt gap.

What would this promoter’s experience be in today’s scenario? Would he be successful in securing the necessary funds?

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According to a recent statistic, 33% of companies operating in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sector have access to banks and financial institutions, while the rest remain excluded and are compelled to raise money through informal channels.

This debt gap is alarming especially in the backdrop of the fact that SME segment contributes nearly 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and 45% of all industrial output.

Till date, banks and NBFCs have not been able to finance this debt gap effectively. What has prevented or restricted them from profitably penetrating this sector? Is it due to inherent credit risk in the segment, lack of collateral, government regulation and laws, or simply because there are greener pastures elsewhere to lend money?

Lets us understand the debt requirement of the SME segment (both early-stage as well as mature entities) before we try to further dissect this issue. In our example, ABC & Co. could require financing for primarily two reasons:

1) Capex, i.e. medium to long-term finance for business expansion, product diversification, renovation of business premises, or purchase of machinery.

2) Working Capital i.e. to cover short-term immediate cash flow needs arising from day-to-day business operations.

To cater to this demand, banks and financial institutions already have specific products (both fund and non-fund based) that can be broadly categorized into two categories for the sake of simplicity:

1) Simple lending products, which would typically cater to the first requirement of SMEs for Capex. These are medium to long-term financing products in the form of equipment and machinery loans, high yield unsecured business loans, Loan against Property etc.

2) Specialised lending products, which typically include factoring, trade finance, cash management services, project finance, bank guarantee, or letters of credit, which typically cater to the second requirement of working capital finance.

As is evident from the above, it is not the lack of “products” that explains the under-penetration of finance flowing to the SME sector. Rather, it is in the design, applicability and administration of these products to the SME sector that banks have fallen short.

In an effort to go deeper, we can identify four key reasons among others, for this shortfall:

1)  Sole Focus on Financials: The current approach to SME lending in most institutions is still heavily dependent on business financials- i.e. looking at historical data to predict future creditworthiness. Typically this involves a lot of paper work and many visits to the applicant.

This approach has not been very successful in the SME sector to-date due to the fact that the financials provided by the applicant are often opaque given the cash nature of business transactions and incentives to under report income to save on taxes. ABC & Co., on this parameter alone (aside from business vintage) would be filtered out as the current financial position reflecting business losses would not be very appealing to most financiers.

2)  Bureau Reporting: There are two kinds of credit bureau reports that can be generated by member banks and NBFCs – Individual and Corporate. While individual records are provided by most bureaus, only CIBIL currently provides reports for corporate entities in India. Valid records for SME entities are still not very evolved in the country. And while the bureaus can provide data on credit worthiness of the individuals involved in any given company, they cannot give relevant insights about an applicant who is a first time borrower.

Since ABC & Co. is newly established, there would not be any bureau record on the company. The application would then have to be judged on the strength of the individual records for the promoter as well as the business viability of ABC & Co.

3)  Selective Segmentation: The implication of the above two factors is that only the “upper layer” of the medium to large enterprise segment is able to pass through banks’ and NBFCs’ credit assessment parameters, leaving aside the major chunk of “small” entrepreneurs and entities whose need for adequate finance is more pronounced. These small entities could be major links in the supply chains of large players, and their inability to access finance could have the ripple effects across the value chain.

4)  Lack of Collateral Security: Lending in India traditionally has relied on taking adequate collateral as a “risk mitigant” to cover the credit risks associated with SME lending and the ambiguity around appraising this segment. The Loan to Value ratio (LTV) becomes the yardstick to segregate and approve or reject cases based on risk. This ratio is inversely proportional to the risk perception of the applicant.

Since ABC & Co. does not have any physical collateral such as property or machinery to offer and the promoter has pitched in whatever money he had in the form of initial capital into the business, his application would be rejected by most banks and NBFCs in the market today.

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This problem of access to finance for SMEs in India is even more accentuated for early-stage companies or startups such as ABC & Co. In their case, past financial performance would be not a correct indicator of the future potential of the enterprise. After initial round of equity funding from family and friends or seed investors, working capital requirements or ad-hoc needs for short term finance would inevitably kick in and must be dealt with in a timely manner to keep the firm operational.

To conclude, traditional lending to the SME sector in India can best be described as a “One Size Fits All Approach.” The risk management techniques used by banks and other financial institutions today are invariably more suitable for medium and large corporate entities. The same set of rules when inadvertently applied to small and early-stage enterprises result in a faulty output, i.e. the systemic rejection of most SME loan applications like ABC & Co. Given the intense nature of competition in the lending industry today, the consequence is that too many banks and financial institutions end up chasing the same set of “good” customers, leaving aside a much larger untapped segment of SMEs in the process.

Watch this space for more articles on the subject as well as suggested ways to underwrite “small” and
“early-stage” entities in the SME sector.

(Image credit: http://blog.directcapital.com/misc/small-business-loan-video/) 

Oct 24, 2018

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Understanding Working Capital

Every small and medium sized enterprise requires a certain amount of working capital to ensure smooth business operations. Working capital is nothing but the equity or funds available to owners to meet their short-term financial commitments and expenditures. Calculated by subtracting the value of current liabilities from the current assets of a business, the available capital stands testimony to the financial health and efficiency of an enterprise, particularly in the short-term perspective.

There are various types of working capital such as fixed working capital, temporary working capital, gross and net working capital, etc. to name a few. Since it is the fundamental building block for any enterprise, working capital is a basic requirement that can never be compromised upon. This is why Working Capital Loans are regular finance products offered by any banking entity, and is the most demanded of loans by small, medium and large enterprises.

Benefits of Working Capital Loans

Working capital loans are short term financing options that are used to cover accounts payables, wages and investments on short term assets. SMEs whose business are reliant on seasonality or manufacturers who depend on traders can opt for these loans until their business picks up or they receive payments. Since working capital loans can be used as the SME deems fit and can be availed for shorter terms, they are extremely beneficial to resolve any immediate financial crunch. Moreover, since these loans are disbursed quickly with fewer documentation requirements, owners can be relatively stress-free regarding daily/monthly expenses of wages, purchases, infrastructure bills, etc. till they can keep their businesses afloat.

Types of Working Capital Loans

Though all businesses are eligible to get working capital loans, finance providers will require business owners to meet certain prerequisites or conditions, depending on the scale of their operations. Traditionally, a security deposit or guarantee is required of them, and the working capital loan offered by lending institutions will significantly depend on the enterprise’s credit repayment history, among other things. However, several NBFCs now provide unsecured loans after an analysis of the business’ books. New-age lenders are now comfortable with extending collateral-free working capital loans to SMEs and even micro businesses.

Some of the most common working capital loans available for businesses are:

1. Short Term Loans
These loans are disbursed at a fixed rate of interest for a fixed payment period, which is usually up to 12 months.

2. Bank Overdraft and Loan Facility
The availability and terms of this type of loan are wholly dependent on an enterprise’s relationship with the lender. For this type of loans, the rates of interest are usually one or two percent above the prime interest rate levied by the lender.

3. Account Receivable Loans
Being the most popular of working capital loans, account receivable loans are most sought out by SMEs. This type of finance is the best choice for businesses requiring equity to meet expenditures such as fulfilling a sales contract, investing in an asset, etc.

Features of a Working Capital Loan

There are several banks and NBFCs in India licensed to offer working capital loans to businesses.  Smart SMEs would thoroughly research parameters like loan tenures, rates of interest, repayment terms, security requirements, etc. before opting for a lender, as this choice will have a lasting impact on the way you conduct business and on larger credit needs in the future.

Loan Eligibility – The number of years the business has been in operation, your CIBIL score and annual business turnover are some factors that will affect the loan eligibility, amount, tenure and rate of interest charged on your working capital loan.

Availing the Loan
– Below are some points that an SME should know before entering into discussions with an NBFC for working capital loans.

1. Most working capital loans are offered for a 12-month tenure.
2. Depending on the loan amount, the scale of business and the kind of lender, an interest rate of 12-16% per annum will be charged on the loan amount.
3. Traditionally, lenders would require collateral from SMEs in return for providing a loan. Even today, some lenders need a guarantee to know that the business they are investing capital into is up and running and if the loan amount will be returned.
4. However, several NBFCs now offer collateral-free loans to help SMEs manage their short-term expenditures without compromising on business goals. But the terms and conditions of the NBFC will dictate the type of loan an SME can avail.
5. Remember, bankers and lenders use the working capital ratio as a quick way to determine a company’s financial health.

Documents & Other Prerequisites – An SME needs to furnish certain documents to confirm the intent of repayment or as a measure of security as per the NBFC’s bylaws. Another prerequisite that business houses may require is to be registered under The Company Act 2013 of India as either of the following:

1. sole proprietorship
2. partnership
3. private limited firm
4. public limited firm

KYC documents, ITR financial statements, VAT returns, etc. are some documents that you will be required to show or upload while applying for a loan.

Choosing a Lender – Since the future of a business, its longevity and its ability to operate efficiently could rest on the working capital loan and the relationship with the lender, it is advisable to choose a reputable lender. Look for lenders who offer simple online documentation, customized business loans and quick disbursal before proceeding with one. It is always safe to choose a well-known lender with a modern outlook and flexible conditions to ensure a seamless experience.

It is clear that a company’s balance sheet indicates the amount of working capital available. This capital, equity or funds meet the necessary day-to-day expenses of every organization and are crucial to an enterprise’s success. Though big businesses are more likely to keep aside abundant working capital to meet their expenditures, startups and SMEs can avail working capital loans to ensure that there are no gaps in meeting expenditures to keep their enterprises running smoothly.

Capital Float is a reputable digital lender with a deep understanding of the unique requirements of a business. Our loan packages are designed to fulfil every short term expense that you will come across.

Oct 24, 2018

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Starting Your Entrepreneurial Journey? Build Your Credit History Along The Way.

There has probably never been a better time to start a business in India. Multiple positive developments in the recent past have laid the foundation for a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem for years to come. Some Governmental initiatives such as “Make in India”, “Startup India” etc., have indicated that at the highest level of policy-making, there is now a strong desire to support new businesses. Increasing digitization and improving infrastructure means that even the youngest of businesses can now reach out to millions of potential customers.  The brightest minds in the country are now being drawn away from previously coveted corporate jobs and are opening up to the challenge of executing an indigenous endeavour from ground-up. These are exciting times.

These young businesses can bring significant value to the Indian economy. At their helm are smart, passionate entrepreneurs with products or services which cater to tangible demands in the market. With the right support and nurturing, many of these ventures can grow into successful businesses. However, far too often, we see many of these budding entrepreneurs failing to realize their true potential. While there can be many reasons why a young business fails to scale up, research globally has identified a clear obstacle – lack of appropriate and timely credit.

The problem of the “Missing Middle” in developing economies is well documented. Such economies have a large number of micro-firms, some large firms but very few medium-sized firms. The absence or the paucity of medium-sized enterprises isn’t because these businesses lack the potential to be profitable, but because access to finance is traditionally a cumbersome process. In India, less than 1/4th of the financing demand of SMEs is met by formal institutional supply. Small businesses fail to benefit from the leverage which debt financing provides and is essential for propelling growth. As a consequence, SMEs contribute to only 8% of the Indian GDP – a stark contrast with the 40%+ contribution made by small businesses in developed economies.

This is not to say that the financing needs of SMEs are being completely ignored. For more than two decades lending to small businesses has been a priority agenda item for policy makers and regulatory bodies. A host of initiatives have been launched but on-ground progress has been slow. A key bottleneck is that these small-medium sized businesses are unable to furnish adequate credit history.

In a country like India, with a thriving informal finance ecosystem, most small businesses do not build credit records in their initial days as they can access finance through informal lending channels. As the size of their operation increases, so does their financial need. At this point, they are unable to turn to formal means of credit supply due to the lack of universally recognized documentation. At this stage, their growth is stunted as the informal market is unable to provide required financing at reasonable rates.  It is a perfect Catch 22 scenario – to get credit you need to have prior history but to have prior history you need to secure credit!

Building credit history with a bureau, e.g. CIBIL, takes time. Start small, be patient and build it over time. In India we now have personal as well as business credit scores available separately, though the former continues to be the more dominant decision input to most underwriting models. The credit worthiness of the promoter of a small business is crucial since the fortunes of the business are so closely entwined with his personal credit standing. It is thus vital to establish and grow your personal credit score. Start with small loans and service them in a timely fashion. If you are unable to get unsecured financing (e.g. a credit card), you can potentially start with a secured loan (e.g. auto loan) or a loan which is backed by a guarantor. Do not over-leverage your self – having multiple loans outstanding and/or high utilization on your existing limits negatively affect your score. Avoid such credit behaviour. Most of these points apply to business credit scores as well – start small and diligently service re-payments.

The entrepreneurial journey can be a deeply rewarding one. Focus on building your credit history along the way to help achieve your goals.

vaibhav

Vaibhav has over seven years of experience in the financial services industry across analytics, sales and trading. He has worked across major financial centres in Asia managing equity portfolios of large institutional investors across the region. In his last role prior to joining CF, he was a member of the Program Trading desk at Deutsche Bank’s Sydney office. He holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from IIT Kharagpur in Electronics Engineering and is a CFA Charterholder. 

Vaibhav heads Business Development at Capital Float. 

Oct 24, 2018