Investing can be a great way to grow your wealth and build for the future. It’s also easier than ever to dip your toes into the market, but before you try your hand at investing it’s important to understand the different investment options you can choose from.
Each of these investment options (or ‘asset classes’), such as shares, fixed income and property, have their own unique characteristics and risks. Understanding the pros and cons of each will help you create an investment portfolio that can help you reach your financial goals.
Let’s take a look at some common asset types and how to start investing.
The share market is one of the most common ways to invest. Shares in a business represent a unit of ownership in that company (also called ‘equity’).
As a shareholder, you’re entitled to share in the company’s profits (typically paid to investors as dividends twice each year) and even vote on key issues affecting the company at the annual general meeting.
Shareholders can also make a profit through capital gains. If the business does well, its price on the stock market will climb and investors can sell their shares for more than they paid for them.
Pros of investing in shares
Shares are generally highly ‘liquid’ – they can be easily converted to cash.
The long-term trend in share markets is for prices to increase, meaning investors who hold their shares for long enough often enjoy capital gains.
There is a huge range of shares to invest in across different industries, meaning investors can tailor their share portfolio based on individual needs.
Cons of investing in shares
Even when the market goes up, individual companies can see their value drop.
Share markets fluctuate through a cycle of booms and busts, and investors could find themselves facing a market downturn that reduces the value of their portfolio.
If you invest too heavily into one industry, you could accidentally over-expose yourself to one part of the market and be heavily affected by specific market shocks.
How to invest in shares
Shares are bought and sold through exchanges like the ASX in Australia, and the S&P 500 in the US. To trade on these markets, you’ll need to talk to a stockbroker or use a digital investing platform.
Remember, you should always thoroughly research a company before buying its shares to make sure you understand the business model and are confident the investment will help you meet your goals. Never invest more than you can afford to lose, and if you’re in doubt about an investment opportunity, speak to a financial adviser first.
Fixed income investments are typically lower risk products which generate steady, predictable returns – hence the name ‘fixed income’. The most common example of this asset type are bonds.
Bonds are usually issued by companies or governments to raise money. When investors buy a bond, they are effectively loaning money to the bond issuer. The issuer agrees to make regular interest payments over the life of the bond, and to refund the full principal once the bond expires (known as ‘reaching maturity’).
Bonds are usually considered low risk, defensive assets.
Pros of investing in fixed income
Fixed income assets are usually less risky than things like shares because they are backed by governments and large corporations.
Bonds have low correlation to other asset types – meaning the market factors that might hurt shares won’t always affect bonds. This makes them useful for diversifying your portfolio.
Fixed income assets can provide investors with a predictable income stream.
Cons of investing in fixed income
Fixed income returns are usually lower than those of higher risk assets.
As the interest rate offered on a bond is usually fixed, subsequent increases in the cash rate can reduce the market value of existing bonds. This is because bonds issued after the cash rate increases will pay a higher interest rate.
There’s always a risk that a bond issuer could default on their payments. Typically, the higher the interest offered on a bond is, the higher the risk that issuer may default on their repayments.
How to invest in bonds
You probably already have exposure to bonds through your super. Bonds can be purchased directly from the issuer through a public offer, or you can go through a broker or trading platform.
Additionally, you can invest in bond funds and some bonds can even be traded on the share market.
Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)
Exchange Traded Funds, or ETFs, are investment funds which are listed on a stock exchange like the ASX. This allows investors to buy and sell shares in the fund instead of having to invest through the fund directly.
As ETFs are listed, investors can access them more easily: the minimum to invest is usually significantly lower, they don’t normally charge as much in fees, and they’re more liquid than unlisted units in a fund.
ETFs create returns through both dividends from the fund’s underlying assets, and capital gains. Management fees are usually taken from the fund assets on a periodic basis.
Pros of investing in ETFs
ETFs give investors access to a diversified portfolio of assets without having to construct the portfolio themselves.
ETFs are relatively affordable and can be more easily entered and exited than trying to buy into a fund directly.
Different ETFs can be used to serve different purposes. Some track a specific index, others focus on investment themes like green energy or AI to try and beat index performance.
Cons of investing in ETFs
ETF fees are usually lower than traditional managed funds but still affect your returns, especially compared with owning the underlying shares directly.
As ETFs are traded on an exchange, the price of individual units in the fund can deviate from the underlying value of the assets it represents depending on demand.
ETFs and their underlying assets are still subject to the same market conditions as other asset types, and you can still lose money investing in them.
How to invest in ETFs
Investing in ETFs is exactly like investing in shares – you will need to go through a broker or investing platform. As with any investment, you should research different ETFs to see which is the most appropriate before you invest as each ETF is constructed differently.
Investing in cash works much like having a bank account. It involves holding different types of currencies across the world earning a return from regular interest payments. Holding cash is a highly liquid investment strategy that’s considered very low risk, but the returns are usually small relative to other asset types.
Pros of investing in cash
Cash is considered a defensive asset – this means when markets fall, your cash won’t lose as much value as other assets like shares might.
Cash is highly liquid. Investors can use this cash to purchase other investments and quickly take advantage of new opportunities if they arise.
As cash generates returns through interest payments, it can benefit when interest rates are climbing.
Cons of investing in cash
Cash is a low-risk asset class, it typically doesn’t generate high returns.
Inflation will gradually erode the value of your cash holdings over time.
Just as higher interest rates improve your returns, a falling interest rate will mean lower returns.
How to invest in cash
There are several ways to invest in cash, including through your super. Alternatively, you can put your money into a term deposit. These pay higher interest than a savings account but you can’t access the money you invested for an agreed period – varying from 1 month to about 5 years.
Infrastructure refers to any large-scale physical assets, like roads, train lines, power stations, communications towers, public housing, and more. These assets generate returns for investors through income earned by the underlying asset – for example, tolls charged by a toll road.
Often these assets are considered essential services, so the fees being charged are regulated by a government agency. While this might limit how much can be charged, it also means investors can expect predictable cash flows over a long period – infrastructure assets typically have at least a 30-year lifetime.
Pros of investing in infrastructure
As these large physical assets can’t be easily duplicated by competitors, they’re often run as a monopoly. In cases where a competitor might be able to build a rival asset, the barriers to entry are still very high.
The income earned by these assets is often linked to inflation – meaning that as the prices of other goods and services increase, the asset’s income does too. As inflation normally reduces the value of investors’ assets, this can be an attractive feature for long term investors.
After these assets are built, their associated operating and maintenance costs are usually quite low, and future cash flow predictions tend to be both highly visible and relatively secure.
Cons of investing in infrastructure
Infrastructure assets are highly sensitive to changes in the interest rate because of their long investment horizon. This means increases in interest rates could erode some value.
These assets aren’t usually as liquid as shares or fixed income, making it harder to sell your stake in an infrastructure asset. Infrastructure liquidity will also depend on how you invest into a project (more on this below).
There are many infrastructure-specific risks to consider, including risks which may only affect that asset. For example, what will happen to your investment if a bushfire causes significant damage to it?
How to invest in infrastructure
You can invest in infrastructure through your super, depending how your fund allocates members’ money.
You can also invest outside of super by pooling your money with other investors through a fund or a trust. Funds and trusts can be either listed – meaning you can trade your stake on a stock market – or unlisted.
Property investing is more than buying a home in order to lease it. It can also include buying commercial properties – such as storefronts or office spaces – and investing in property funds or real estate investment trusts (REITs).
Typically, property generates income for investors through rent. Increases in property values can also create returns for investors through capital gains.
Pros of investing in property
Property can create reliable regular income streams for investors.
Different property types and locations have different levels of risk, giving investors flexibility when constructing their portfolio.
There are often tax breaks and benefits offered to property investors.
Cons of investing in property
Property relies on having good tenants. Vacancies and bad tenants can jeopardise your income.
Rising interest rates makes property ownership more expensive and eat into you returns.
If the property market suffers a crash, your portfolio could end up being worth less than the debt you took on to purchase your properties – meaning you’re in ‘negative equity’.
How to invest in property:
Investors can access the property market directly by simply purchasing the property they want outright, or they can invest through funds and trusts. Like infrastructure, property funds and trusts can be divided into listed and unlisted opportunities.
Listed funds are more liquid, but their prices are more volatile.
Investing made simple
Learn everything you need to know to plan and start your investment journey.
Avanteos Investments Limited ABN 20 096 259 979, AFSL 245531 (AIL) is the trustee of the Colonial First State FirstChoice Superannuation Trust ABN 26 458 298 557 and issuer of FirstChoice range of super and pension products. Colonial First State Investments Limited ABN 98 002 348 352, AFSL 232468 (CFSIL) is the responsible entity and issuer of products made available under FirstChoice Investments and FirstChoice Wholesale Investments.Information on this webpage is provided by AIL and CFSIL. It may include general advice but does not consider your individual objectives, financial situation, needs or tax circumstances. You can find the target market determinations (TMD) for our financial products at www.cfs.com.au/tmd, which include a description of who a financial product might suit. You should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and Financial Services Guide (FSG) carefully, assess whether the information is appropriate for you, and consider talking to a financial adviser before making an investment decision. You can get the PDS and FSG at www.cfs.com.au or by calling us on 13 13 36.