C. Myblog

Evaluating Investments

February 24, 2012

This post is a continuation of Investing At “Record” Low Rates… published February 10, 2012.

Investments with complex optionality are increasingly being added to credit union investment portfolios.  As such, it is critical that credit unions have a solid understanding of what they may be purchasing, before the transaction is executed.

First, make sure your broker is providing you with a complete picture of the characteristics of the investment in question.  In general, most brokers provide market value, and cash flow information for the current environment and a +300 basis point (bp) rate change.  However, some investments (in particular some CMOs) may look “okay” if rates go up 300bp, but have the potential for extreme extension risk if market rates go up 400 or 500bp.  Credit unions should ask their broker for cash flow and market value shock data for the +400 and/or +500bp rate change, particularly for investments with optionality.  Remember that short-term market rates were 500bp higher than they are today as recently as 2007.

In addition to cash flows, other optionality features can be very important as well.  For example, if the investment is variable rate, make sure that all of the repricing parameters are clearly understood: repricing frequency, margin, caps, floors, etc.  When the first repricing can occur is particularly important, especially with rates being so low.  For callables and step ups, consider call dates and potential repricing dates.  For step up investments consider if the future step protection warrants the lower starting coupon rate compared to a bullet or callable with the same final maturity.

Working with a trustworthy broker certainly helps in this process, but that does not absolve decision-makers of completing their own due diligence and ensuring an investment fits within their overall strategic objectives.  Keep asking questions until there is clarity on the investment and its structure, consider the other pertinent decision drivers (for example, policy, impacts to aggregate risk position, etc.) and consider the unexpected in the decision-making process.

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