It is important to understand the main asset classes and how they can affect the returns and risk of your portfolio. The types of asset classes include:
- Bonds (or fixed interest as they are often called)
There may be asset types within each asset class. For example, within shares, there is a choice of Australian and international shares and within international shares, there is choice of specific regions or countries like China or emerging market shares.
Generally ‘growth’ assets like shares and property provide the prospect of higher returns over the long term compared to ‘safer’ assets like bonds and cash. However growth assets have a higher level of risk including the risk of capital loss and more ups and downs in returns particularly over the short term. ‘Growth’ assets are only appropriate if you have an investment time horizon of at least five years due to their higher level of inherent risk.
Shares: Shares represent part ownership in a company and usually provide income payments through dividends and can produce growth if the share price increases.
For Australian companies, these dividends can be franked, which means that you receive a tax credit for the tax already paid by the company so that you are not taxed twice (once at the company tax rate and again at your marginal tax rate). If your tax rate is less than the company tax rate (currently 30%) you will receive a refund for the extra tax paid by the company. If your tax rate is higher you may need to pay some extra tax.
Property: An investment in property provides you with ownership in a property or a number of properties through a managed structure. Property investments allow you to benefit from the rent received by the properties as well as the change in the valuation of the property over time. The returns of these properties will depend on the quality of the tenant and the rent paid as well as the location and type of property such as residential, industrial or commercial.
Bonds (fixed interest): A bond is a tradeable debt security, usually issued by a government, semi-government or corporate body to raise money. Investors in the bond have effectively lent money, for which they receive a fixed rate of interest over a set period of time. The bond is repaid with interest on the predetermined maturity date.
For example, if you invest in a 5 year bond paying 3% coupon you will pay $1,000 to invest in the bond. In return, you will receive $30 (3% of $1,000) each year. At year 5, you receive the coupon of $30 plus the original $1,000 outlay.
It is possible to experience capital losses from a bond investment if it is cashed before maturity and interest rates have risen or capital gains if the reverse occurs. They are not as safe as cash.
Cash: Cash is one of the safest investments. Cash compared to other assets tends to provide lower variability in returns, high level of security on the capital invested and acts as a more defensive investment. This reduces investment risk so the money is available when you need it, with a minimal potential for capital loss.
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