(Illustration: Sudhir Shetty)
(Illustration: Sudhir Shetty)

Thematic funds are highly risky, not for everyone

  • Experts say retail investors should stay away from thematic mutual funds as they are highly risky, and require active involvement, knowledge
  • If you are interested in thematic funds because you think a particular theme is going to be popular? Here is what you should know

Mumbai: Thematic funds are equity mutual funds that invest in different sectors and companies of a particular theme. “These funds may have stocks from different sectors," said Harsha Upadhyaya, chief investment officer equity, Kotak Mahindra Asset Management Co Ltd. For example, if the theme is financial services, it will include stocks from sectors such as banking, insurance and mutual funds.

According to Value Research data, 50% of asset management companies offer thematic funds. Are you interested in thematic funds because you think a particular theme is going to be popular? Here is what you should know:

Risks, performance

Firstly, know that the risks associated with a thematic fund are higher because the scope of the stocks it is invested in is concentrated. “High net-worth individuals (HNWI) who want to take the extra risk of beating the markets can look at thematic funds," said Prabin Agarwal, founder of Siliguri-based Prabinagarwal Wealth Management. He said none of the total funds launched last year have done spectacularly well.

Secondly, remember that thematic funds are cyclical in nature. “Thematic fund portfolios usually invest in one or more sectors and hence, become cyclical in nature, resulting in heightened volatility in the portfolio. We believe that high volatility products are not best-suited for retail investors. Therefore being a retail-focused asset management company (AMC), we have avoided thematic funds so far," said Alok Singh, chief investment officer of BOI AXA Mutual Fund, an AMC which does not offer thematic funds.

Also, you need to look at valuations. “Investments into sector or a thematic fund is advisable when the sector or the themes under consideration are available at attractive valuations," said Rajat Chandak, fund manager at ICICI Prudential AMC. An attractive valuation signifies a fair value of the security and the current worth of the company. There may be noise about certain sectors performing well. However, there is no guarantee that it will do so. External environment can play a part too. Macroeconomic aspects such as gross domestic product, crude oil prices and interest rate make or break a theme. “For example, when it comes to automobiles, robust GDP is a positive. Falling crude oil price and reduction in interest rates has a reasonably positive impact on this space," said Chandak.

In the past, there have been times when sectors have had a good run but eventually they see a downfall and investors lose their money. For instance, after registering a healthy compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 14% from FY08 to FY13, the pharmaceutical market growth slowed down to around 10% CAGR during FY13-FY18 on account of pricing regulations from 2013-14 onwards, according to a report by Crisil, a credit-rating agency. “So portfolio of investors who may have invested on the back of robust double digit growth suffered in the last two to three years," said Prabin. Another example is the focus on technology companies in 2000, luring people to add more of tech funds in their portfolio.

What should you do?

Experts suggest that retail investors should stay away from investing in such concentrated mutual funds owing to major decisions such as timing the market, supervising market movements and decision on whether to stay invested or not stay with the investor.

“Irrespective of any events happening in the economy, the fund manager has to stay invested in thematic funds unlike diversified funds where the portfolio is flexible," Upadhyaya said. To invest in thematic mutual funds, active involvement and knowledge are required. If you want to invest in thematic funds, you must consult a financial advisory.

“A maximum of 5-6% of your portfolio should be exposed to thematic funds," said Aggarwal. Thematic funds are highly risky and not meant for everyone. Also, you need to get the timing right, which is extremely difficult to do. Hence, tread carefully if you must.