BRAD DUNN | What's a Hybrid?
So, what are Hybrids? How can they help you diversify your portfolio and beat your returns on term deposits? What place can they take in your portfolio?
According to Brad Dunn from eInvest, hybrids serve a unique purpose in supporting banks to maintain enough capital against the loans and assets that they hold. In a worst-case scenario, the strength of the banking system can be threatened. This became apparent during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008 where banks did not hold sufficient capital to meet their debt obligations. Regulators now require banks around the world to raise capital that can be used in case of an emergency situation.
“I think, but for a few people that have had some rough experience with banks, most people overall have quite a positive view about the actual strength of the banking system here in Australia. You know, it's well run, it's well-capitalized and people generally trust that the institutions will be here one year, five years, ten years into the future. So that's not necessarily the biggest issue. The biggest issue with hybrids is when you see a new offering, the document that comes with it is generally 150 pages or more, and that's what can trip people up because while there is a fair degree of standardisation, there are things that can change.”
Hybrids are a unique type of security. At a high level, hybrids are like a unique mix of equities and bonds. The bond will pay out a regular coupon and in certain instances, can also be converted into shares of the underlying issuer.
Finance is full of jargon. The word coupon is just another word for distribution or annual interest payment. Coupon is used when referring to fixed income products or bonds.
In addition, Hybrids can be an opportunity to globally diversify your portfolio. At eInvest, they will not only look at well-established Australian banks that need to raise capital but also institutions around the world such as Bank of America, Royal Bank of Canada and Swedbank.
“So we looked at banks and we wanted to identify banks that were similar to the Australian banks in one or many ways, but that also offered these hybrid securities because we thought if we could put a portfolio together of those higher-quality banks around the world, we could start to generate some true diversification, rather than just saying we held 25% CBA, 15% NAB. That was our diversification argument. We could say, not only do we own the best Australian banks, we've also gone to Canada.”
Interestingly, in some countries, regulators can impose stronger capital requirements that can make it appealing for hybrid investors. With larger capital requirements, banks are less likely to fall under stress during a financial crisis.
Whether you’re a new or seasoned investor looking to dive deeper into diversifying your portfolio, Brad Dunn takes you through how you to invest in hybrids using the DHOF ETF, saving you the time-consuming task of researching the best global banks while managing your portfolio risk.
“We don't want to say that we hold all the best brands and here are all the logos, all we want to say is that we want to get the best out of the hybrid asset class. And that means we have to look offshore and we need to take that into account, bring it all back to Australian dollars, so we don't take any currency risk.”
As the paperwork can be extensive and technical, the DHOF fund aims to help their investors by taking the overwhelm out of choosing specific investments, where the research is done for you and the portfolio of securities is actively managed by Daintree Capital.
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So what are hybrids? Today, I'm joined by Brad Dunn to find out what these things called hybrids are. G'day, Brad. Good to see you, Phil. Yeah. Great to have you back in the studio. Lovely to be here. Brad Dunn is the senior credit analyst from eInvest, DHOF ETF. So tell us about hybrids. What are they and what do they mean?
Sure. Hybrids are a very unique type of security and they're issued by companies and financial companies like banks, but generally speaking, banks are the biggest issuers of these particular types of securities. And at a very, very high level, they have elements of debt or bond securities, and they have elements of equity securities, and they come together and they form this particular type of security called a hybrid.
And they're traded on the market. Aren't they?
Generally speaking, they're traded in the market in Australia, but that's not always the case overseas. So we'll get into that, I suppose, a little bit later, but in Australia you will be very familiar with and trading on the exchange, just like any other share.
So these instruments for companies and especially banks to raise capital. Now, I thought it was just on debt markets, you know, like in the fixed income ETFs that you manage or raising capital on the market itself, but this is another way that they can raise money. Is that the case?
That's right. So hybrids have a very special purpose. So if you think back to about 2008, when we had what everybody knows is the GFC. At that time banks, weren't holding enough capital as they probably should, to hold against the loans and the assets that they hold. So the regulators took a look at this and they said, okay, banks, you need to raise more of this type of capital. That looks like a fixed income security for most of its life. But in the very rare circumstances where you need an injection of equity really quickly, what hybrids do is they can actually be converted to the equity or shares of the underlying issuer. So that is what their role is. So when you're thinking about investing in hybrids, thinking about as you providing a service to the banks, because those banks are holding that sort of capital and paying your return while they're waiting on the very, very small chance that they would need your help to turn that into equity at some point in the future.
Has that ever happened?
It has, but they've been very clear that they were going to do it. And they did it in an environment where you received the shares of the issuer. And you've got plenty of time to decide whether you want to keep them, whether you want to sell them on the market and receive your full value of the hybrid back for them. So yes, it has happened, but it has been very much in a controlled environment. It's been very, very rare, especially in Australia, but also offshore that they've needed to actually do this in a stress scenario where they've actually needed to draw on some of the features in the hybrid terminology.
I believe that these days there's a question over whether banks and other companies can offer these directly to shareholders as they have been in the past. What's the situation developing now.
Yeah. So if you're a shareholder of any of the major banks, I think you probably would have, at some point in the past received letters at home, asking you do, would you like to participate in one of these new offerings? And they would often have a fancy name like pearls or something like that. So you were given the option to do that as a valued shareholder of the bank, but in the last couple of months, in fact, in October of 2021, there was some rules changed about how financial companies and asset managers like ourselves can interact with end investors. And to that end, there's a couple of acronyms there's TMD and DDO. But what it means at the end of the day is that a bank or a fund manager like ourselves need to think very closely about who is the right market, who is the right investor to be offering our product or service to.
And that is something that we've been thinking a lot about, but we think it also has implications for the banks because they need to think about, would an investor that perhaps doesn't have as much investing knowledge. Are they able to process the details in a fairly detailed letter about a new hybrid security? So that's certainly going on in the background, and it's still an open question as to whether the banks are going to be willing to offer those types of securities into the future, given this change in the rules.
And because they are traded on the share market, there is a possibility that they will lose value at particular points in time.
Of course, and that's the same with any traded security. And to be honest, once it actually lists on the exchange, there's nothing stopping any investor from calling their broker or getting onto their share trading account and buying it anyway. So it is a bit of an open question, because as much as you want to offer these securities to the right people and protect them and make sure that they understand what they're getting into, once it, once it's listed, then it's fair game and it's, open season, basically. So it's still an interesting development, but yeah, we, we watch this space closely.
What is the problem then with an individual investor going on the market and just buying them just to get at the rate of return, because they offer a slightly better rate of return than a term deposit don't they?
They do. Yeah. That's certainly the appeal and why most people will look at them. I think the fact that they're issued by really good quality names in the first place, I think, but for a few people that have had some, some rough experience with, with the banks, most people overall have quite a positive view about the actual strength of the banking system here in Australia. You know, it's, it's well run it's well-capitalized and people generally trust that the institutions will be here one year, five years, ten years into the future. So that's, that's not necessarily the biggest issue. The biggest issue with hybrids is when you see a new offering, the document that comes with it is generally 150 pages or, or more, and that's what can trip people up because while there is a fair degree of standardisation, there are things that can change.
And if you don't have the time to sit down and read 150 pages, you may miss one of those little nuances and it could come back to haunt you in the future.
So of course, in all these situations, active managers can add value to a basket of hybrids. And that's what you're offering, isn't it?
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So that's what I spend a lot of my time doing. So, I spend a lot of time in these documents, so I know where to look. I know where the changes happen because I'm familiar with a lot of them that you get to know them. So that part of the value that we can add. But secondly, what we can bring is, a much broader universe. And we start to look a lot more broadly because, you know, in Australia, we've got great institutions. We just don't have that many of them. And to be honest, most of your listeners and probably most investors in around the country, be it in their superfund or be it in their personal account, will probably have a lot of bank equity holdings already anyway, of the form ages and the regionals and so on. So there's that problem of concentration because everybody wants, you know, income in this environment, but to do it with the same limited amount of institutions, as you already hold in your equity portfolio, it means that there is that concentration aspect that you need to consider as well.
What is the kind of return that hybrids offer?
So at the moment, one of the issues we're facing is that the bank bill swap rate or the short-term interest rate that is very sensitive to movements and say the RBA cash rate is still quite low. There's been a lot of talk recently about when the RBA is going to start moving. We don't think it's still for at least 12 to 18 months ourselves. We've still been fairly conservative in that respect, but with interest rates so low, all of the hybrids are priced off that interest rate. So you've got nothing to start with and then you've got the margin on top. So the margin at the moment is somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5% per annum.
That's not bad though considering you're getting less than 1% in a term deposit.
That's true. That's true. We were always very careful to start comparing them to different products like that and tern deposits, especially because they are very different and they do carry investment risks. So we just want to just sort of put that out there. But the other thing is, if you talk to a hundred people, you'll generally get 90 different answers as to where they think they sit in the spectrum. So, you know, we obviously know that cash is safer than fixed income. You know, fixed income is generally safer, go quote-unquote than, than equities or property. And then within that spectrum, where do you sit hybrids? And as I said, there's a lot of conjecture about where the right place is to sit them. So when you compare it, in that sense, there are some people that do like to compare them against cash and term deposit like investments.
And there are some that see the aspects of equity that can kick in, in circumstances and place them further up the spectrum and that just leads to a whole range of different conversations about whether they're good value, what the relative value is like and where they actually fit in a particular portfolio.
So what are your thoughts on inflation and interest rates? Do you think we're going to go into a period of hyperinflation? There are some people that think we're going into a period of hyperinflation and other people think, well, no, it's not going to be the same as what it's like in the past. How do you feel about it and where interest rates are hitting?
That's a great question. And I think that anyone that can sit back and opine authoritatively on this subject is probably making things up. It's a really hard question to answer at this point in time, there are a lot of cross-currents and there are a lot of moving parts. From our perspective we think that inflation is not going to go into that hyperinflation type scenario, nor are we going to hit into what's called a stagflationary environment. So stagflationary environments are probably the worst of all environments for investors because you've got that combination of very stagnant growth and high inflation. Now, what, while we say that is we still think there is an element of transitory nature to the inflation aspect.
But what we also don't want to forget is that there are some real factors as well, larger factors that continue to track on their Merry way that have been disinflationary in the past. So the two that I mentioned is that the general indebtedness of the world. So, you know, countries and, and companies and individuals sometimes have taken on a lot more debt to get their way through the pandemic and debt doesn't magically just disappear. It needs to be paid off, and that takes time. And the second one is demographics. So from what we understand, the global or the workforce in China, for example, actually peaked a couple of years ago. So there's actually sort of less new people coming into the workforce in China, as there are older people leaving it.
And that has implications for the world as well, in terms of being able to manage the amount of output that comes out of China and some of the other effects that happen there. So demographics is another big factor that can influence inflation and interest rates rather than just what's happening about not being able to get your Christmas presents here by December 25th this year, which is I think going to be a problem for people in the short term. But we caution against having that cloud, some of the larger movements that are still happening, but we think it will impact inflation and interest rates as well, or
The price of turkeys for Thanksgiving this year. And I'm exactly,
Exactly. Yeah. All of those things. Yeah.
Yeah. Let's talk about the argument for global and local hybrids and mixing them up in a portfolio.
When we looked at putting the Daintree Hybrid Opportunities Fund together, we looked very closely not just at the Australian scenario, but it's not just banks in Australia that need to raise this capital. It's actually banks around the world. The regulation that's driving this is actually global. So we looked at banks and we wanted to identify banks that were similar to the Australian banks in one or many ways, but that also offered these hybrid securities because we thought if we could put a portfolio together of those higher-quality banks around the world, we could start to generate some true diversification, rather than just saying we held 25% CBA, 15% NAB. That was our diversification argument. We could say, not only do we own the best Australian banks, we've also gone to Canada.
We've found the best banks in Canada with a system that's very similar to Australia in a lot of ways. And we include them. We go to the United States, we find some great banks, household names, and we do the work. And we find some of them that issue hybrid securities to our liking as well. And we go to Europe and we do the same thing. So we've taken those steps. And what we found was the way that hybrids are treated and priced and traded offshore is often very different to Australia. The ownership base is different. So in Australia, it's generally mums and dads self-managed super funds and smaller shareholders. So you've got a very, very broad, diverse ownership base that are very attracted to the franking credits, which come with Australian hybrids, but they're generally very much buy and hold.
So they'll buy them, take the coupon, put them in the bottom drawer and generally not trade them. When we look offshore, what we find is that the trading environment is very different. There are different investors involved. There are institutional investors and they have a very different outlook on hybrids. They will be very much about the returns. So if the yield that they're being offered, isn't what's up to scratch, they will sell and they'll move on to something else. If the yield being offered is really attractive, then they will buy as much as they can find in the market. So it's, it's a very different type of scenario. And that gives us additional opportunities, not just to find great securities to add and mix with Australian securities, but also to find yield advantages.
Presumably, sometimes there are going to be trading lower and offering a better yield. Is that the case?
Yeah. And it's been quite consistent actually. It's really interesting to see that the yield uplift or the yield differential that you can achieve from a security that is similarly structured. So we've read the terms from a similar issuer and all of those things, we match it as much as possible, but we can get 70 basis points, a hundred basis points up to 140 basis points of additional return by adding these offshore banks.
Kind of like buying something less than its net asset value kind of
Yeah. Kind of. But when you look at it,
Net return value or whatever the technical term is that I don't know.
Yeah. I mean, or you can position it in, in a whole number of ways, but the way we look at it is if we were to take two banks and we took the names off the top, so we wouldn't be able to identify from the numbers themselves, who they were. If we could find two banks that were remarkably similar, one was issuing a, a hybrid with a yield of 3.5%. And one was issuing a hundred with a yield of 4.5%. You then, you know, it's pretty obvious which one we would go for. So that's really our approach. We're not necessarily taking very much a brand-named view. We don't want to say that we hold all the best brands and here all the logos, all we want to say is we want to get the best out of the hybrid asset class. And that means we have to look offshore and we need to take that into account, bring it all back to Australian dollars, so we don't take any currency risk.
And once we've done all that, if we can find better yields offshore, then we will own them.
So what's the criteria that you use to identify banks that are similar to ours.
Sure. It's a number of ways that we use first. We look for legal structures that are similar to Australia. So Canada, for example, I mentioned that earlier, that is a Commonwealth country. So, you know, Commonwealth style legal system. So that's all very, very similar to us. Very familiar to us. It's housing market is very strong. So there's a lot of demand for residential housing. The Canadians love their houses just as much as we do. And also the banks themselves, it's, it's, what's called an oligopoly style structure. So there are three or four large banks that hold a predominant amount of market share, but there is that vibrant secondary level as well, where there are some smaller banks and some non-banks and, and whoever that sort of competed in the market as well.
So market structure very similar too, and we think that's good because having those four pillars, if you will, in Canada, provides that stability to the system.
Do they have four pillars? Like we do.
They, they don't have a four pillars policy, but it turns out that they've got four banks that are much larger than the rest. So it's a defacto four pillars in, in that sense.
What are some of the names of the banks that are in the portfolio?
Yeah. So at the moment, we've got JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America in the United States. We have the Royal Bank of Canada and the Toronto Dominion Bank in Canada. We have a bank called ING group out of the Netherlands. We've got a really interesting bank called Swedbank out of Sweden. The interesting part about Sweden is its regulator. So their version of APRA their bank regulator is so particular about the amount and level type of capital that they hold, the number of hybrids they can issue the types of hybrids they can issue. They are so particular. And so overbearing on the banks that they hold so much capital.
They don't know what to do with it. And, and for us that's really appealing because, you know, they could live through a nuclear winter, a volcanic eruption and earthquake zombie, zombie apocalypse, and, and they would still probably survive. That's how much capital they've got that that for us is, you know, a very appealing thing for us as a hybrid investor. So, you know, those sorts of things come into our thinking. When we, when we look at names.
As the portfolio manager, how do you manage risk in constructing the portfolio?
A number of ways, first of all, we use all of our standard measures. So proper diversification, a good fundamental process to weed out the, the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff. And that's been pretty successful to get us down to a good manageable group of names that we can then add to the portfolio. On top of that, we use something called our overlay. So I'll explain what an overlay is in a minute, but the overlay is there to not only add an additional little return stream but also to manage risk. And I'll, I'll explain what that means in a little bit more detail. And then the third thing we do is we have what's called a tail hedge or a tail cushion.
What it does is it's there for when markets decide in their infinite wisdom out of the blue to drop by 15 or 20% in the space of a week. Because what we know is that hybrid will often go with that, with that market drop. And that can be quite a fronting to, to an investor that's owned a hybrid for a couple of years, has gotten relatively comfortable. Their coupons have landed on time, and everything's great. And then all of a sudden, we see the value of them dropped by five or, or 10%. It has happened in the past. And I'm reasonably certain that it will happen again in future it's just part of the course. But within our fund, we have the tools to actually put a little protection mechanism there so that if that event did occur, we'd be able to dull some of that volatility in our, in our returns, because ideally, we want to reduce the drawdown because the most difficult part of recovering from that drawdown is getting back to a level, you know, that 10% fall requires way more than 10% return, 10% upside to getting you back to level pegging.
Yeah. So we want to avoid that as much as possible. So there are the three ways we do it, but just to maybe go back to the overlay and give it a little bit more context. So we know that hybrids often perform like fixed income securities, but when markets get tough, they start to begin to act like equities, but it's often at the times, you'd least want them to. So what the overlay says is that hybrids have a particular type of structure. What we can do is we can put some trades in, that go counter to what we think will happen in that downside environment to protect us against some of that volatility.
Now, it sounds complicated and we've got, you know, two people at Daintree that, that do that specifically. They spend a lot of time thinking about what's the best way to do that. What's the cheapest way to do that. What's the most impactful way to do that. And at the end of the day, we want to, as I said, try to remove some of the volatility that comes, from these securities and make them look and feel as much like fixed-income security as, as possible to give you that extra level of comfort.
Is that like hedging? Is that what's called hedging?
It is hedging, but our overlay program tries to do that. And more so to
Generate more of an income
As well. That's right. Yeah. We, we, we want to be able to offer regular and stable coupons. We want to be very clear and be able to do that. And of course, our hybrid book will always generate that coupon for us. But if we can add a little bit of additional income onto that, then in this type of yield environment, I think that's going to sort of be a lot more valuable than the sort of the hundred basis points or so that we're actually talking about we'll generate because that a hundred basis points that's 1% or so that's largely what you can get for a long-term cash deposit at the moment. So hybrids plus that little protection mechanism coming together to really sort of providing that, that service or to extract the full potential out of hybrids is, is the way we like to put it.
What's a coupon?
Oh, it's just a distribution payment in, in the bond world in fixed income world, we call them coupons. It's, it's also another name for distribution or an income payment.
So how does DHOF compare to other hybrid alternatives?
Well, it's a mixture of some of the best aspects of, of hybrids. So compared to alternatives, they generally either look fully international or fully Australian and DHOF has that mixed between local and global to the best of our knowledge, our peers in the, in the space also don't have that protection or overlay mechanism in place. So they tend to, you know, build a portfolio of assets and then generate the coupon of the income payments. And then generally don't have any other things around that. So you, you get to ride the wave of the, of the ups and the downs. So adding that element to us, I think differentiates us as well.
And the, the point to note is Daintree Capital has partnered with the invest for, for many years. And, and DHOF is our third fund. And in our other two funds, we have the same overlay program running, and we've got several years of track record behind us now. So we've tested it in real-world environments. We've tested it in 2017, 2018, for example, which was an interesting time in credit markets. And it seemed to have, you know, come out of that quite well. And we've, we've learned a lot from that. And of course, 2020 got another good test, of the program. So it's had some real-world experience. So we're confident that including it in DHOF will give us that result that we need and differentiate us from the market as well.
So even though hybrids are traded on the market and have the same market risks that can go down when the rest of the market goes down, presumably if you hold onto them till the end that you get your original Capital back yeah. The way they work.
Yes. And that, and that's been overwhelmingly the case for, for many years, but there's, there's definitely a few terms and a few dates that you need to look out for and be familiar with so that this is in the 150 pages. That's right. That's right. I'll, I'll try and summarize about 50 pages for you in that in a few minutes. But the, the first date to note is what's called the call date. So the call date is the first date that the issuer can say, okay, we've decided that these securities have played their part and it's time for us to redeem them to buy them back from you. In which case, at a call date, they can say, we're going to pay you the par value, the face value of the, of the security plus the final distribution, the final payment.
So you will come out square and received all your year income payments along the way. So the call date is, is very important, but the call date isn't mandatory. The call date is only optional. The issuer can still say, well, we like these securities. We like having you as a hybrid holder, we'll decide to not call these in which case they will trade on January for another one to two years. Okay. So you need to be aware that that call date is not an end date, but generally after that, after another two years as passed, we have, what's called a mandatory call date. So the mandatory call date will happen. You will get your money back and you will get your final coupon subject to a couple of criteria being met, generally speaking, it's that the, the bank share price is above a certain level, which is generally an easy threshold to make, but it's just something there to be aware of and needs to be met.
And that the regulator says it's okay for them to do it. And it's generally because they'd be replacing it with something else, or they've raised a different piece of capital somewhere else. So they, the bank would be in no worse position by redeeming it. So that, that would generally happen at the mandatory call date. And then you've got, what's called the, the actual legal date, which is perpetual. So there are some situations very, very rare where they can actually trade without a call date and they lose the call dates and they start to become, what's called perpetual security. And if any of your listeners, listeners have ever heard of a code called NABAJ, they would know what I'm talking about, because that was one of those rare securities back in the olden days, back in the late nineties, where it actually lost its call dates, and it became what's called perpetual security.
Is it still on the market? No, it eventually got bought back, but investors only needed to wait 20 years. So it was, it was a long way. And there was a lot of ups and downs along the way. We, we had the GFC, we had other market ups and downs. We had the pandemic, but it was eventually bought back by, by that bank. So it, it's just one of those things that you need to be aware of, as I said. So, if you're aware of those key dates, you've got a broad idea of, of what you could be in for.
However, if you don't want to worry about all of that sort of stuff, you can go to an ETF to have this all managed for you.
Yeah, absolutely. So that we think it's one of the ways that actually we can help our investors as well, because, you know, the paperwork involved can get tiresome and you probably got paperwork coming out of your ears already. Anyway. So I hope the discussion today hasn't necessarily scared too many people away from hybrids, given that they can be a little bit technical. But yeah, the reality is with the, with the click of a mouse and the, and the trade of single security via, DHOF on the ASX, you can get access to that asset class, have someone like me working through the detail, creating a portfolio accessing securities that you can't from your share trading account, or your stockbroker, and then having all of that protection underneath it as well.
So if we do see those market volatility events, you will be able to, to watch and hopefully write it out from the sidelines, you know, without anywhere near the level of volatility that others would be saying by simply buying a Pearl's 10 or buying a NAB hybrid, and then just going along for the ride. So that's yeah, that's definitely an appeal for the one trade ETF structure.
Without getting into the nuts and bolts of portfolio construction, because we can't actually construct anyone's portfolio here on the podcast, but what kind of place does this ETF take? What part can this ETF take in someone's portfolio?
So I'll just put it out there. This is general advice, of course. Yes. But from our perspective, we think you should sit in the income bucket potentially also in the alternatives bucket. They do, they do have some features that would easily be able to classify them into the alternatives bucket if you take that view, but generally speaking, they should be looked at as income-generating securities. But you need to understand that those income-generating securities come with a little bit of market exposure, not the same amount as equities, but more than cash, and more than a very high-quality fixed income or credit portfolio, that's where they should sit, but they come with franking credits and they're issued by great names.
So putting that all together, I think you can be very confident to include them in the income part of your portfolio.
And how can listeners find out more about DHOF, where is the web address that they can go to?
Sure. They just need to get online, einvest.com.au/hybridsforbeginners and we'll have lots of content there. Lots of information to get you started, and hopefully, convince you to join our growing crew. And if listening to sign up before the 31st of December, we have a special offer. So, if you buy units before the end of the year, we are offering a fee-free for the first months of 2022. So, invest before 31 December, hold your holding through to the end of June, and then you will receive bonus units in July as a welcome to the fund. All the details are in the PDS.
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