What Is Flight to Quality?

What Is Flight to Quality?

Flight to quality, also known as flight to safety, is when investors shift their assets away from riskier investments — like stocks — into conservative securities – like bonds. This reaction often occurs during turbulent times in the economy or financial markets, and investors want to put their money into relatively safe assets.

Because flight to quality is a term that’s often thrown around in the financial media, investors need to know what it is and how it can potentially impact an investment portfolio. A flight to quality is a short-term trading strategy that might not be ideal for long-term investors. But it’s still important for investors to know how the broader trend affects the financial markets.

What Causes Flight to Quality?

Economic uncertainty is why investors look to rejigger their portfolios away from volatile investments to conservative ones. Moments of economic uncertainty that spook investors can arise for various reasons, including geopolitical conflict, a sudden collapse of a financial institution, or signs of an imminent recession.

A flight to quality usually refers to a widespread phenomenon where investors shift their portfolio asset allocation. This large-scale change in risk sentiment can generally be seen in declines in stock market indices and government bond yields, as investors sell risky stocks to put money into more stable bonds.

Though a flight to quality usually refers to a herd-like behavior of most investors during economic uncertainty, individual investors can make a similar move at any time, depending on their risk tolerance and specific financial situation.

💡 Recommended: Bear Market Investing Strategies

What Are the Effects of Flight to Quality?

During periods of flight to quality, investors trade higher-risk investments for lower-risk ones. This shift commonly results in a decrease in the price of high-risk assets and boosts the price of lower-risk securities.

As mentioned above, investors can see one effect of a flight to quality in the price of major stock market indices and bond yields, as the market shifts money from the risky stocks to safer bonds.

But a flight to quality doesn’t mean that investors will necessarily shift out of one asset (stocks) into another (bonds). For example, investors worried about the economy might sell growth stocks in favor of more reliable value or blue-chip stocks, pushing the price of the growth stocks down and boosting the price of the blue chips.

💡 Recommended: Value vs. Growth Stocks

A flight to quality may also shift investment from emerging market stocks to domestic stocks or from corporate bonds to government bonds.

In addition to moving funds from stocks to bonds or other assets, investors may also move money into cash and cash-equivalent investments, like money market funds, certificates of deposit, and Treasury bills, during periods of economic uncertainty. These cash investments are very liquid and will not usually fluctuate in value, making them ideal for investors that desire stability.

Real-World Example of Flight to Quality

A flight to quality occurred during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic and related economic shutdowns. Investors scrambled to figure out their portfolio positions in the face of an unprecedented global event, selling stocks and putting money into relatively safe assets.

The S&P 500 Index fell nearly 34% from a high on Feb. 19, 2020, to a low on Mar. 23, 2020, as investors sold off equities. But investors didn’t rush to put this money into high-grade corporate and government bonds, as many would have thought in a regular flight to quality. A record $109 billion flowed out of fixed-income mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) during a single week in March 2020. Instead, investors moved capital into cash and cash-like assets during this volatile period in a desire for liquidity.

The Takeaway

A widespread flight to quality that creates volatility in the financial markets can be scary for many investors. When you see decreases in a portfolio or 401(k), it can be tempting to follow the broader market trends and shift your asset allocation to safer investments. However, this is not always the best choice, especially for investors trying to build long-term wealth.

Are you ready to invest and build wealth for the long term? You could start investing today by opening an online brokerage account with SoFi Invest®. SoFi Invest offers an active investing solution that allows members to choose stocks and ETFs without paying commissions.

Get started investing with as little as $5 with SoFi Invest.


SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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Target Date Funds: What Are They and How to Choose One

A target date fund is a type of mutual fund designed to be an all-inclusive portfolio for long-term goals like retirement. While target date funds could be used for shorter-term purposes, the specified date of each fund — e.g. 2040, 2050, 2065, etc. — is typically years in the future, and indicates the approximate point at which the investor would begin withdrawing funds for their retirement needs (or another goal, like saving for college).

Unlike a regular mutual fund, which might include a relatively static mix of stocks and bonds, the underlying portfolio of a target date fund shifts its allocation over time, following what is known as a glide path. The glide path is basically a formula or algorithm that adjusts the fund’s asset allocation to become more conservative as the target date approaches, thus protecting investors’ money from potential volatility as they age.

If you’re wondering whether a target date fund might be the right choice for you, here are some things to consider.

What Is a Target Date Fund?

A target date fund (TDF) is a type of mutual fund where the underlying portfolio of the fund adjusts over time to become gradually more conservative until the fund reaches the “target date.” By starting out with a more aggressive allocation and slowly dialing back as years pass, the fund’s underlying portfolio may be able to deliver growth while minimizing risk.

This ready-made type of fund can be appealing to those who have a big goal (like retirement or saving for college), and who don’t want the uncertainty or potential risk of managing their money on their own.

While many college savings plans offer a target date option, target date funds are primarily used for retirement planning. The date of most target funds is typically specified by year, e.g. 2035, 2040, and so on. This enables investors to choose a fund that more or less matches their own target retirement date. For example, a 30-year-old today might plan to retire in 38 years at age 68, or in 2060. In that case, they might select a 2060 target date fund.

Investors typically choose target date funds for retirement because these funds are structured as long-term investment portfolios that include a ready-made asset allocation, or mix of stocks, bonds, and/or other securities. In a traditional portfolio, the investor chooses the securities — not so with a target fund. The investments within the fund, as well as the asset allocation, and the glide path (which adjusts the allocation over time), are predetermined by the fund provider.

Sometimes target date funds are invested directly in securities, but more commonly TDFs are considered “funds of funds,” and are invested in other mutual funds.

Target date funds don’t provide guaranteed income, like pensions, and they can gain or lose money, like any other investment.

Whereas an investor might have to rebalance their own portfolio over time to maintain their desired asset allocation, adjusting the mix of equities vs. fixed income to their changing needs or risk tolerance, target date funds do the rebalancing for the investor. This is what’s known as the glide path.

How Do Target Date Funds Work?

Now that we know what a target date fund is, we can move on to a detailed consideration of how these funds work. To understand the value of target date funds and why they’ve become so popular, it helps to know a bit about the history of retirement planning.

Brief Overview of Retirement Funding

In the last century or so, with technological and medical advances prolonging life, it has become important to help people save additional money for their later years. To that end, the United States introduced Social Security in 1935 as a type of public pension that would provide additional income for people as they aged. Social Security was meant to supplement people’s personal savings, family resources, and/or the pension supplied by their employer (if they had one).

💡 Recommended: When Will Social Security Run Out?

By the late 1970s, though, the notion of steady income from an employer-provided pension was on the wane. So in 1978 a new retirement vehicle was introduced to help workers save and invest: the 401(k) plan.

While 401k accounts were provided by employers, they were and are chiefly funded by employee savings (and sometimes supplemental employer matching funds as well). But after these accounts were introduced, it quickly became clear that while some people were able to save a portion of their income, most didn’t know how to invest or manage these accounts.

The Need for Target Date Funds

To address this hurdle and help investors plan for the future, the notion of lifecycle or target date funds emerged. The idea was to provide people with a pre-set portfolio that included a mix of assets that would rebalance over time to protect investors from risk.

In theory, by the time the investor was approaching retirement, the fund’s asset allocation would be more conservative, thus potentially protecting them from losses. (Note: There has been some criticism of TDFs about their equity allocation after the target date has been reached. More on that below.)

Target date funds became increasingly popular after the Pension Protection Act of 2006 sanctioned the use of auto-enrollment features in 401k plans. Automatically enrolling employees into an organization’s retirement plan seemed smart — but raised the question of where to put employees’ money. This spurred the need for safe-harbor investments like target date funds, which are considered Qualified Default Investment Alternatives (QDIA) — and many 401k plans adopted the use of target date funds as their default investment.

Today nearly all employer-sponsored plans offer at least one target date fund option; some use target funds as their default investment choice (for those who don’t choose their own investments). Approximately $1.8 trillion dollars are invested in target funds, according to Morningstar.

What a Target Date Fund Is and Is Not

Target date funds have been subject to some misconceptions over time. Here are some key points to know about TDFs:

•   As noted above, target date funds don’t provide guaranteed income; i.e. they are not pensions. The amount you withdraw for income depends on how much is in the fund, and an array of other factors, e.g. your Social Security benefit and other investments.

•   Target date funds don’t “stop” at the retirement date. This misconception can be especially problematic for investors who believe, incorrectly, that they must withdraw their money at the target date, or who believe the fund’s allocation becomes static at this point. To clarify:

◦   The withdrawal of funds from a target date fund is determined by the type of account it’s in. Withdrawals from a TDF held in a 401k plan or IRA, for example, would be subject to taxes and required minimum distribution (RMD) rules.

◦   The TDF’s asset allocation may continue to shift, even after the target date — a factor that has also come under criticism.

•   Generally speaking, most investors don’t need more than one target date fund. Nothing is stopping you from owning one or two or several TDFs, but there is typically no need for multiple TDFs, as the holdings in one could overlap with the holdings in another — especially if they all have the same target date.

Example of a Target Date Fund

Most investment companies offer target date funds, from Black Rock to Vanguard to Charles Schwab, Fidelity, Wells Fargo, and so on. And though each company may have a different name for these funds (a lifecycle fund vs. a retirement fund, etc.), most include the target date. So a Retirement Fund 2050 would be similar to a Lifecycle Fund 2050.

How do you tell target date funds apart? Is one fund better than another? One way to decide which fund might suit you is to look at the glide path of the target date funds you’re considering. Basically, the glide path shows you what the asset allocation of the fund will be at different points in time. Since, again, you can’t change the allocation of the target fund — that’s governed by the managers or the algorithm that runs the fund — it’s important to feel comfortable with the fund’s asset allocation strategy.

How a Glide Path Might Work

Consider a target date fund for the year 2060. Someone who is about 30 today might purchase a 2060 target fund, as they will be 68 at the target date.

Hypothetically speaking, the portfolio allocation of a 2060 fund today — 38 years from the target date — might be 80% equities and 20% fixed income or cash/cash equivalents. This provides investors with potential for growth. And while there is also some risk exposure with an 80% investment in stocks, there is still time for the portfolio to recover from any losses, before money is withdrawn for retirement.

When five or 10 years have passed, the fund’s allocation might adjust to 70% equities and 30% fixed income securities. After another 10 years, say, the allocation might be closer to 50-50. The allocation at the target date, in the actual year 2060, might then be 30% equities, and 70% fixed income. (These percentages are hypothetical.)

As noted above, the glide path might continue to adjust the fund’s allocation for a few years after the target date, so it’s important to examine the final stages of the glide path. You may want to move your assets from the target fund at the point where the predetermined allocation no longer suits your goals or preferences.

Pros and Cons of Target Date Funds

Like any other type of investment, target date funds have their advantages and disadvantages.

Pros

•   Simplicity. Target funds are designed to be the “one-stop-shopping” option in the investment world. That’s not to say these funds are perfect, but like a good prix fixe menu, they are designed to include the basic staples you want in a retirement portfolio.

•   Diversification. Related to the above, most target funds offer a well-diversified mix of securities.

•   Low maintenance. Since the glide path adjusts the investment mix in these funds automatically, there’s no need to rebalance, buy, sell, or do anything except sit back and keep an eye on things. But they are not “set it and forget it” funds, as some might say. It’s important for investors to decide whether the investment mix and/or related fees remain a good fit over time.

•   Affordability. Generally speaking, target date funds may be less expensive than the combined expenses of a DIY portfolio (although that depends; see below).

Cons

•   Lack of control. Similar to an ordinary mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF), investors cannot choose different securities than the ones available in the fund, and they cannot adjust the mix of securities in a TDF or the asset allocation. This could be frustrating or limiting to investors who would like more control over their portfolio.

•   Costs can vary. Some target date funds are invested in index funds, which are passively managed and typically very low cost. Others may be invested in actively managed funds, which typically charge higher expense ratios. Be sure to check, as investment costs add up over time and can significantly impact returns.

What Are Target Date Funds Good For?

If you’re looking for an uncomplicated long-term investment option, a low-cost target date fund could be a great choice for you. But they may not be right for every investor.

Good For…

Target date funds tend to be a good fit for those who want a hands-off, low-maintenance retirement or long-term investment option.

A target date fund might also be good for someone who has a fairly simple long-term strategy, and just needs a stable portfolio option to fit into their plan.

In a similar vein, target funds can be right for investors who are less experienced in managing their own investment portfolios and prefer a ready-made product.

Not Good For…

Target date funds are likely not a good fit for experienced investors who enjoy being hands on, and who are confident in their ability to manage their investments for the long term.

Target date funds are also not right for investors who are skilled at making short-term trades, and who are interested in sophisticated investment options like day-trading, derivatives, and more.

Investors who like having control over their portfolios and having the ability to make choices based on market opportunities might find target funds too limited.

The Takeaway

Target date funds can be an excellent option for investors who aren’t geared toward day-to-day portfolio management, but who need a solid long-term investment portfolio for retirement — or another long-term goal like saving for college. Target funds offer a predetermined mix of investments, and this portfolio doesn’t require rebalancing because that’s done automatically by the glide path function of the fund itself.

The glide path is basically an asset allocation and rebalancing feature that can be algorithmic, or can be monitored by an investment team — either way it frees up investors who don’t want to make those decisions. Instead, the fund chugs along over the years, maintaining a diversified portfolio of assets until the investor retires and is ready to withdraw the funds.

Target funds are offered by most investment companies, and although they often go by different names, you can generally tell a target date fund because it includes the target date, e.g. 2040, 2050, 2065, etc.

If you’re ready to start investing for your future, you might consider opening a brokerage account with SoFi Invest® in order to set up your own portfolio and learn the basics of buying and selling stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and more. Note that SoFi members have access to complimentary financial advice from professionals.


SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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Understanding Bond Valuation

What Is Bond Valuation?

Bond valuation is a way of determining the fair value of a bond. Bond valuation involves calculating the present value of the bond’s future coupon payments, its cash flow, and the bond’s value at maturity (or par value), to determine its current fair value or price. The price of a bond is what investors are willing to pay for it on the secondary market.

When an investor buys a bond from the issuing company or institution, they typically buy it at its face value. But when an investor purchases a bond on the open market, they need to know its current value. Because a bond’s face value and interest payments are fixed, the valuation process helps investors decide what rate of return would make that bond worth the cost.

Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how bond valuation works, and why it’s important for investors to understand.

How Bond Valuation Works

First, it’s important to remember that bonds are generally long-term investments, where the par value or face value is fixed and so are the coupon payments (the bond’s rate of return over time) — but interest rates are not, and that impacts the present or fair value of a bond at any given moment.

To determine the present or fair value of a bond, the investor must calculate the current value of the bond’s future payments using a discount rate, as well as the bond’s value at maturity to make sure the bond you’re buying is worth it.

Some terms to know when calculating bond valuation:

•   Coupon rate/Cash flow: The coupon rate refers to the interest payments the investor receives; usually it’s a fixed percentage of the bond’s face value and typically investors get annual or semi-annual payments. For example, a $1,000 bond with a 10-year term and a 3% annual coupon would pay the investor $30 per year for 10 years ($1,000 x 0.03 = $30 per year).

•   Maturity: This is when the bond’s principal is scheduled to be repaid to the bondholder (i.e. in one year, five years, 10 years, and so on). When a bond reaches maturity, the corporation or government that issued the bond must repay the full amount of the face value (in this example, $1,000).

•   Current price: The current price is different from the bond’s face value or par value, which is fixed: i.e. a $1,000 bond is a $1,000 bond. The current price is what people mean when they talk about bond valuation: What is the bond currently worth, today?

The face value is not necessarily the amount you pay to purchase the bond, since you might buy a bond at a price above or below par value. A bond that trades at a price below its face value is called a discount bond. A bond price above par value is called a premium bond.

How to Calculate Bond Valuation

Bond valuation can seem like a daunting task to new investors, but it is not that onerous once you break it down into steps. This process helps investors know how to calculate bond valuation.

Bond Valuation Formula

The bond valuation formula uses a discounting process for all future cash flows to determine the present fair value of the bond, sometimes called the theoretical fair value of the bond (since it’s calculated using certain assumptions).

The following steps explain each part of the formula and how to calculate a bond’s price.

Step 1: Determine the cash flow and remaining payments.

A bond’s cash flow is determined by calculating the coupon rate multiplied by the face value. A $1,000 corporate bond with a 3.0% coupon has an annual cash flow of $30. If it’s a 10-year bond that has five years left until maturity, there would be five coupon payments remaining.

Payment 1 = $30; Payment 2 = $30; and so on.

The final payment would include the face value: $1,000 + $30 = $1,030.

This is important because the closer the bond is to maturity, the higher its value may be.

Step 2: Determine a realistic discount rate.

The coupon payments are based on future values and thus the bond’s cash flow must be discounted back to the present (thanks to the time value of money theory, a future dollar is worth less than a dollar in the present).

To determine a discount rate, you can check the current rates for 10-year corporate bonds. For this example, let’s go with 2.5% (or 0.025 as a decimal).

Step 3: Calculate the present value of the remaining payments.

Calculate the present value of future cash flows including the principal repayment at maturity. In other words, divide the yearly coupon payment by (1 + r)t, where r equals the discount rate and t is the remaining payment number.

$30 / (1 + .025)1 = $29.26

$30 / (1 + .025)2 = 28.55

$30 / (1 + .025)3 = 27.85

$30 / (1 + .025)4 = 27.17

$1030 / (1 + .025)5 = 1,004.87

Step 4: Sum all future cash flows.

Sum all future cash flows to arrive at the present market value of the bond : $1,117.70

Understanding Bond Pricing

In this example, the price of the bond is $1,117.70, or $117.70 above par. A bond’s face or par value will often differ from its market value — and in this case its current fair value (market value) is higher. There are a number of factors that come into play, including the company’s credit rating, the time to maturity (the closer the bond is to maturity the closer the price comes to its face value), and of course changes to interest rates.

Remember that a bond’s price tends to move in the opposite direction of interest rates. If prevailing interest rates are higher than when the bond was issued, its price will generally fall. That’s because, as interest rates rise, new bonds are likely to be issued with higher coupon rates, making the new bonds more attractive. So bonds with lower coupon payments would be less attractive, and likely sell for a lower price. So, higher rates generally mean lower prices for existing bonds.

The same logic applies when interest rates are lower; the price of existing bonds tends to increase, because their higher coupons are now more attractive and investors may be willing to pay a premium for bonds with those higher interest payments.

Is Investing in Bonds Right for You?

Investing in bonds can help diversify a stock portfolio since stocks and bonds trade differently. In general, bonds are seen as less risky than equities since they often provide a predictable stream of income. All investors should at least consider bonds as an investment, and those with a lower risk tolerance might be better served with a portfolio weighted highly in bonds.

Performing proper bond valuation can be part of a solid research and due diligence process when attempting to find securities for your portfolio. Moreover, different bonds have different risk and return profiles. Some bonds — such as junk bonds and fixed-income securities offered in emerging markets — feature higher potential rates of return with greater risk. “Junk” is a term used to describe high-yield bonds. You can take on higher risk with long-duration bonds and convertible bonds. Some of the safest bonds are short-term Treasury securities.

You can also purchase bond exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and bond mutual funds that own a diversified basket of fixed-income securities.

The Takeaway

Bond valuation is the process of determining the fair value of a bond after it’s been issued. In order to price a bond, you must calculate the present value of a bond’s future interest payments using a reasonable discount rate. By adding the discounted coupon payments, and the bond’s face value, you can arrive at the theoretical fair value of the bond. A bond can be priced at a discount to its par value or at a premium depending on market conditions and how traders view the issuing company’s prospects.

Owning bonds can help add diversification to your portfolio. Many investors also find bonds appealing because of their steady payments (one reason that bonds are considered fixed-income assets). When you open an online brokerage account with SoFi Invest, you can build a diversified portfolio of individual stocks as well as exchange-traded bond funds (bond ETFs). You can also invest in a range of other securities, including fractional shares, IPOs, and more. Also, SoFi members have access to complimentary professional advice. Get started today!


SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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