Debt Instruments – Meaning, Objectives and Features

The debt markets today are a major source of financing than the banking system. It is any market situation where debt instruments are traded. It establishes a planned environment where the debts are traded amongst the interested parties. The debt markets are known by other names based on the types of instruments are traded. For example when municipal or corporate bond are traded, debt market is called bond market whereas if notes or securities or mortgages are traded market is called credit market.

The debt market is three times larger than stock/equity market. The debt markets are categorized into two other markets called money market and capital market. Money market is a subsection of the fixed income market. It specializes in short-term debts with the maturity of one-year. Capital markets specialize in long-term debts. It is a market in which financial instruments are traded by the institutions and individuals. Institutions or organizations in either private or public sectors sell securities to raise funds in these markets. Both these terms are mistakenly applied. In capital market assets (including equities) are taken into consideration and they are amortized over the period of time. Money market is more of debts which are readily sold at price predictable within short time. But it is very difficult to distinguish between money and non-money based on one year maturity line.

Some of the debt instruments are traded Over-the-counter and not through exchanges. They are traded in an electronic network market where the brokers or dealers act as mediators. Money markets are not accessible by small investors except through MFs.

Corporate associates or groups or even individual investors may participate in the debt market. There may be very little difference between how corporate associates or an individual participate depending on the regulations of the government. The interest rates are the price of the money which increases with the increase in the demand to borrow money. The debt market is influenced by credit-worthiness of the borrower, term-to-maturity, security for loan and many other factors. But government also tries to regulate the interest rates to stimulate the economies with complete focus on inflation.

The main advantage of debt market is the degree of risk associated with the investment opportunity is very low. For the investors who avoid participating in the riskier ventures in which there is less or smaller returns favors bonds and similar investments. A significant amount of money is earned even of returns are not high in the debt market.

Meaning of  Debt Instruments

For every individual financial planning is an important task. For the preservation of principal amount the investors should distribute a major portion of their investments in debt instruments.

A debt instrument is an electronic obligation or any paper that permits an issuing party to raise funds by assuring it to pay back a lender in accordance with the terms and conditions of a contract. The predetermined conditions which are mentioned in the contract are the periodicity and rate of interest and the date of the repayments of the principal amount.

Debt instruments  are an easier way for  participants and markets transfer the rights of  debt obligations from one party to another. Debt obligation  transferability increases liquidity and gives creditors a means of trading debt obligations  on  the market. Without debt instruments acting as a means to facilitate trading, debt is an obligation from one party to another. When a debt instrument is used as a medium to facilitate debt trading, debt obligations  can be moved from one party to another quickly and efficiently.

In Indian Securities market, the term “bond” is used for debt instrument given by Central and state government and the term “debenture” is used for the instruments issued by private sectors.

Objectives and Features of  Debt Instruments

Preservation of principal amount and getting modest returns is the main objective of the debt funds. Investors look for both short-term and long-term investments. There are many instruments available in the market so one can choose easily any or mix of instruments according to its requirements. The main objectives of debt instruments are:

  1. Safety of the principal amount.
  2. Guaranteed returns for the investors.  Currently 8-9% interest per annum are quoted for medium to long-term deposits whereas it is 6-7% returns for short-term deposits.
  3. Some of these instruments also qualify for tax rebates under Section 80C.

There are three main features of debt instruments;

  1. Maturity:  Maturity refers to the date on which the bond matures. It is the date on which the borrower agrees to repay the principal amount. Term-to-maturity refers to the number of years remaining for the bond to mature. It changes every day from the date of the issue to the maturity of the bond. It is also called the tenure or term of the bond.
  2. Coupon:  Coupon Rate refers to the periodic payment of interest made by the issuer of the bond to the lender of the bond. Coupons are declared either by stating the number (example: 8%) or with a benchmark rate (example: MIBOR+0.5%). It is usually represented as a percentage of the face value or the par value of the bond.
  3. Principal:  It is the amount which is borrowed. It is the face or the par value of the bond. The product of the coupon rate and principal is the coupon.

For example a GS CG2008 11.40% bond refers to a Central Government bond maturing in the year 2008, and paying a coupon of 11.40%. Since Central Government bonds have a face value of Rs.100, and normally pay coupon semi-annually, this bond will pay Rs. 5.70 as six- monthly coupon, until maturity, when the bond will be redeemed.

The term to maturity of a bond can be calculated on any date, as the distance between such a date and the date of maturity. It is also called the term or the tenor of the bond. For instance, on February 17, 2004, the term to maturity of the bond maturing on May 23, 2008 will be 4.27 years. The general day count convention in bond market is 30/360 European which assumes total 360 days in a year and 30 days in a month. There is no rigid classification of bonds on the basis of their term to maturity. Generally bonds with tenors of 1-5 years are called short-term bonds; bonds with tenors ranging from 4 to 10 years are medium term bonds and above 10 years are long term bonds. In India, the Central Government has issued up to 30 year bonds.

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