Business Standard

Reduce risk in small, midcap funds with asset allocation


The results of the stress tests conducted by mutual fund houses in their mid and smallcap funds show that liquidity risk is higher in the latter category.

While the bulk of mid cap funds that have declared their results will be able to liquid ate 25 percent of their portfolio within three days, only about half of the small cap funds will be able to do the same.

Higher awareness

One positive outcome of the stress test is the increased awareness.

“It has raised awareness at least among some investors that liquidity can be a concern in the mid and smallcap segment during times of stress,” says M Pattabiram­an, associate professor, IIT Madras and founder,

Alekh Yadav, head of investment products, Sanctum Wealth adds that having access to regular data on liquidity will make investors more conscious of this risk.

Methodolog­y issues

Some experts have pointed to a couple of issues with the methodolog­y employed to calculate the time for portfolio liquidatio­n. One, funds are permitted to exclude the bottom 20 per cent of the least liquid stocks in their portfolios from calculatio­ns. This has the potential to skew results.

Another point of concern is the assumption that liquidity improves during volatile periods. Fund houses are allowed to assume a threefold spike in trading volumes during such times. Experts say in reality, trading volumes tend to dry up in such times.

Should liquidity affect fund selection?

When selecting a fund, experts say investors should focus primarily on consistenc­y of performanc­e and quality of holdings. “Using any metric, such as liquidity, in isolation to evaluate a fund can lead to poor decisions. Investors have committed this error in the past with expense ratio and risk-o-meter,” says Vidya Bala, co-founder, Primeinves­tor.

Instead of making binary decisions based on this criterion, investors may give some weight to it in their fund selection methodolog­y.

Some experts believe AUM size could become an important criterion in the future.

“With test results showing that most larger-sized funds take longer to liquidate their portfolios, it may be prudent to stick to funds having a smaller AUM, especially in the smallcap space,” says Yadav.

Control what you can

Direct stock investors can choose not to go with illiquid stocks. Fund investors, however, will find it difficult to address liquidity risk at the fund level. When they invest in a fund, they must trust their fund manager to take calculated risks (including liquidity risk) to achieve the desired returns.

Investors can best manage liquidity (and other market) risks in small and midcap funds through their strategic asset allocation.

“Based on risk appetite, ensure that your investment in small and midcap funds does not exceed 15 to 30 per cent of your equity portfolio,” says Bala.

Pattabiram­an points out that fund liquidity is not within the investor’s control and can improve or worsen after they have invested. Avoid kneejerk reactions like exiting a fund if there is a spike.

“Rebalance your portfolio regularly to maintain small and midcap exposure within the decided limits,” says Abhishek Kumar, a Sebi-registered investment advisor (RIA) and founder, Sahajmoney.

Invest in small and midcap funds with a horizon of seven years or more so that you are not affected by intermitte­nt spikes in volatility.

Act based on your own liquidity needs. “When you are one or two years away from a goal, liquidate the required amount from equity funds and park it in debt instrument­s to meet your requiremen­ts,” says Kumar.

Bala suggests creating an emergency fund using debt funds so that you don’t have to sell your equity holdings during a market downturn.

Pattabiram­an says studies done by him have shown that most active smallcap and midcap funds struggle to consistent­ly beat the Nifty Midcap 150 index. He says investors (especially new ones) uncomforta­ble with the high liquidity risk in smallcap funds may avoid the category altogether. He suggests that those keen on midcap exposure should consider investing in a Nifty Next 50 index fund.

“This index has a risk-reward profile similar to that of a midcap index but has relatively better liquidity,” he adds.

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