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Who should invest in target maturity debt funds?

20 Jan 2022 - Contact Sayan Sircar
14 mins read

There are multiple target maturity debt funds in the market with gilt, SDL, PSU and CPSE bond exposures. Who should invest?

Who should invest in target maturity debt funds?

Table of Contents

What are target maturity debt funds

Target maturity debt fund (TMDF) is a debt mutual fund that matures, like an FD, on a particular date. The portfolio of these funds, based on the fund mandate, is a mix of one or more of the following types of bonds:

  • gilt bonds: these are issued by RBI and are for the central government
  • SDL bonds: these are issued by the individual state government to fund various projects and other purposes
  • CPSE and PSU bonds: bonds used by either PSU or CPSE companies

In most cases, the funds are benchmarked against a bond index launched by an index provider like Crisil, NSE or others and are run in a passive fashion. These funds are launched in three formats:

  • ETF tracking the index
  • Fund of fund (FoF) investing in the ETF
  • Index fund tracking the index

Using data from Valueresearchonline, we see that the average maturity of the bonds in the portfolio is very close to the residual time to maturity of the bonds. This is by design since the TMDF buys bonds that mature just before the fund’s maturity date. Therefore, this portfolio structure clarifies the actual yield (measured by Yield To Maturity or YTM minus the expenses TER) the investor is expected to get for every investment made in the fund, given that the bonds are held until maturity.

Name Maturity Avg. Maturity (Y) YTM TER AuM (Cr) 1Y Ret.
ABSL Nifty SDL Apr 2027 Index Fund 2027
ABSL Nifty SDL Plus PSU Bond Sep 2026 60:40 Index Fund 2026 4.47 6.18 2,685
Axis AAA Bond Plus SDL ETF - 2026 2026 3.94 5.91 0.13 602
Axis AAA Bond Plus SDL ETF - 2026 FoF 2026 0.07 46
Axis CPSE Plus SDL 2025 70:30 Debt Index Fund 2025
BHARAT Bond ETF - April 2023 2023 1.25 4.85 0.00 4,277 4.86
BHARAT Bond ETF - April 2025 2025 3.14 5.64 0.00 9,847 4.87
BHARAT Bond ETF - April 2030 2030 8.07 6.86 0.00 12,771 4.75
BHARAT Bond ETF - April 2031 2031 9.14 6.88 0.00 10,565 4.04
BHARAT Bond ETF - April 2032 2032 10.23 6.99 0.00 6,345
BHARAT Bond ETF FOF - April 2032 2032 9.46 6.72 0.05 307
BHARAT Bond FOF - April 2023 2023 1.24 4.84 0.05 941 4.78
BHARAT Bond FOF - April 2025 2025 3.13 5.63 0.05 3,298 4.78
BHARAT Bond FOF - April 2030 2030 8.01 6.84 0.05 2,830 4.69
BHARAT Bond FOF - April 2031 2031 9.1 6.86 0.05 1,967 3.99
Edelweiss NIFTY PSU Bond Plus SDL Index Fund - 2026 2026 4.03 5.93 0.16 4,212
Edelweiss NIFTY PSU Bond Plus SDL Index Fund - 2027 2027 5.04 6.28 0.16 1,469
ICICI PSU Bond Plus SDL 40:60 Index Fund - Sep 2027 2027 5.48 6.29 0.15 1,421
IDFC Gilt 2027 Index Fund 2027 5.17 6.10 0.15 1,941
IDFC Gilt 2028 Index Fund 2028 5.78 6.19 0.15 496
Nippon ETF Nifty CPSE Bond Plus SDL - 2024 Maturity 2024 2.53 5.40 0.15 1,752 4.46
Nippon ETF Nifty SDL - 2026 2026 4.05 5.97 0.15 3,964
SBI CPSE Bond+SDL Sep 2026 50:50 Index Fund 2026

A few of these funds are just launched and do not have portfolio, AuM, TER and other data.

We will use the RRTTLLU framework to evaluate these funds and their suitability for investors.

Return (R)

The returns of these funds are not guaranteed. Just like every other debt mutual fund, the return of these funds come from:

  • interest accrual when the underlying bonds pay interest
  • when the price of the bonds in the portfolio change due to interest rate changes or demand/supply in the bond market

The expected return from these funds, provided you hold to maturity, should be understood in this way:

  • A TMDF should be approached as an FD whose rate changes daily and maturity is on the date written in the fund name
  • Each investment, SIP or lump sum, in the fund will give a return approximately equal to the YTM minus TER as per the latest portfolio disclosure barring liquidity events in the bond market

If you do not hold the investment to maturity, the returns will be unpredictable to the large interest rate risk in the portfolio.

These funds are suitable for investing as the debt component as per the asset allocation of goals. You can invest for goals whose maturity date aligns with the fund maturity date and will have to ignore fund volatility for already invested money. You need to see if the YTM aligns with your expectations for every new investment.

Risk (R)

There are multiple risks in these funds related to interest rate movements, trading of these bonds and market sentiment related to bonds as a whole.

Credit risk

This determines how good the underlying bond is in terms of the issuer’s capability of paying back the regular interest (called a coupon) and the money borrowed (the principal) of the bond.

Issuers are rated by Credit Rating agencies (like S&P, Moody’s, Fitch, CRISIL, Indiaratings etc) and given a scale like AAA (best quality), AA (lower than best), to D (worst quality - unable to pay back the money borrowed). Higher the credit rating (AAA or SOV - for the government), lower is the coupon, and lower is the credit risk.

The credit risk of the bonds, from lowest risk to highest is this: Gilts (least) followed by SDL and PSU/CPSE. PSU/CPSE bonds may or may not be AAA rated (the highest rating).

SDL issuers are generally considered similar in credit quality as gilts. This article talks about the relative risk of SDLs vs gilts.

Interest rate risk

This risk affects the prices of bonds already in the market.

If an existing bond offering a 7% coupon is pitted against a new bond that got offered at a lower coupon of 6% (interest rates are falling) then the existing bond is more desirable and a debt fund holding these older 7% bonds. The reverse happens if interest rates rise in the economy - debt fund NAVs fall. This metric, for measuring interest rate risk is called Modified Duration, is available for all debt funds and measures the rate of change of the portfolio NAV due to changes in interest rates

The higher the portfolio’s average maturity, the higher the interest rate risk. One way to mitigate interest rate risk is to hold the investment until maturity.

Liquidity risk

There is no guarantee that the fund will provide returns close to the bond index if there are large inflows and outflows in the fund since some of these bonds can be illiquid. Also, if there are liquidity events in the bond market, like in March 2020, it might be difficult to exit these bonds to support redemptions.

Fund manager risk

Given the passive nature of these funds, there is limited fund manager risk in taking decisions that chase yield or invest in bonds that do not meet the fund maturity dates. The portfolio of these funds will be inline with that published by the index provider. A key issue with getting money back after the shutting down of six debt funds in 2020 was the AMC choosing long duration bonds that will mature in the far future.

Tracking risk vs the index

Tracking error of Bharatbond ETF

There are challenges in tracking a bond index given liquidity of the underlying bonds in the index. As the diagram above shows, for the Bharatbond 2031 ETF since inception, there are considerable differences in the way the ETF is tracking the performance of the underlying index.

Time horizon (T)

These funds are suitable for investment where you need the money just after the fund matures. If the goal is further away, by more than six months to a year, you need to invest in a different fund. You should not invest in this fund if your goal comes before the fund maturity. The fund documents will have the maturity specified.

Taxes (T)

Taxation for these funds is identical to other debt funds:

  • Short term gains: <3 years holding is taxed at slab rate
  • Long term gains: >=3 years holding is taxed at 20% post indexation

Read more on mutual fund taxation: How is tax calculated on selling shares/MFs and how do to do tax harvesting?

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SEBI like all other mutual funds regulates these funds. There is no special regulatory specific feature or restriction.

Liquidity (L)

Typically, compared to closed-ended Fixed Maturity Plan (FMP) debt funds in the market, these funds are open-ended like most common mutual funds allowing entry and exit any time. The usual transactions like lump sum, SIP, STP, SWP etc. are allowed. The open-ended nature also allows easy rebalancing.

Investors should, in general avoid ETFs, if there are consistent price/NAV variations i.e. the ETF keep trading away from the NAV. When buying or selling ETFs, check the iNAV from the AMC website before investing.

Read more here: Portfolio rebalancing during goal-based investing: why, when and how?

Unique situations (U)

These funds are unique as they are the only target-date funds (TDF) available in India. TDFs are common in other countries and have both equity and debt for purposes like retirement and college education.

Use cases of these funds

Goal-based investing

These funds can be a part of goal-based investing as per the asset-allocation of the goal. However, given the nature of the investment, the goal horizon, i.e. when you need to spend the money, should be fixed and not change over time.

Read more: What should be the Asset Allocation for your goals?

Lump sum investment for yearly income

Yield ladder

Since we have funds maturing every year, we can create a bond ladder using current yields to create regular income. The corpus will be fully invested in these funds, and we will have to allocate a certain amount to each fund so that, post-tax, we get the amount we need. This may be useful for conservative investors since this method is more efficient since the taxation for debt funds is better than FD or interest from bonds. This method also requires less capital upfront than investing in RBI Bonds and getting income from that.

Read more: How to use the RBI Retail Direct Scheme to get guaranteed income?

Suitability for investors

These funds are suitable for investors under certain conditions and investors need to be extremely clear on their requirement and expectations.

A general primer on choosing debt mutual funds is provided here: How to choose a debt mutual fund?.

Who should invest in these funds

Investors should invest if:

  • they need the money for a goal immediately after the fund maturity date
  • they are looking for passively managed debt investments at low cost
  • they understand that the returns can fluctuate even though the bonds do not have credit risk

Who should not invest in these funds

Investors should not invest if:

  • they tend to SIP and forget instead of reviewing and rebalancing: Are your investments on track for your goals?
  • they choose debt funds based on historical returns. The expected returns will depend on the YTM of the portfolio and not what they returned in the past
  • they do not have experience in investing in long-duration bonds and have not witnessed fluctuations due to interest rate fluctuations and liquidity events like March 2020
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