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SIP or lumpsum when switching from one fund to another?

November 1, 2020

When you decide to switch funds because your scheme is doing poorly, the dominant question in your mind is this: should I do a SIP or lumpsum switch? Your dilemma takes any of the following forms:

  • What if you reinvest your money at one go, and there’s a correction?
  • Since it’s a new investment in a new fund, shouldn’t you stagger your investments to avoid poor market timing?
  • If you stagger the reinvestment, wouldn’t you be getting an additional rupee cost averaging benefit?

Here are the answers to the SIP or lumpsum worries.

SIP or lumpsum depends on asset class

The asset class matters

The thread connecting the questions around SIP or lumpsum as above is the asset class – both of the fund you are moving out of and the fund you are moving into. The rules you need to follow here are simple, and outlined below.

  • If both the funds are in the same asset class, you can do a lump-sum switch. It does not matter whether the fund is equity, debt, or hybrid.
  • If you are moving from a debt fund to an equity fund/equity-oriented fund, you can do a staggered investment, such as an STP if both funds are from the same AMC or by investing the amount in a liquid fund and running an STP for 6-18 months.
  • If you’re moving from an equity fund to a debt fund/ debt-oriented fund, then it depends on what purpose you’re making such a switch. If it is because you’re nearing the end of your goal, then you can stagger your exit over 6-12 months from the equity fund, and make gradual investments into debt. This is not so much to phase entry into debt, but to maximise opportunities in equity. But if you’re moving from equity to debt simply because of asset allocation needs or you want to lower your portfolio risk, a lump-sum switch will be fine.

Let us make this very clear – we do not prescribe lumpsum investing in equity when you deploy afresh. The above points are applicable only when you switch your existing investments from one fund to another.

Let’s see the reasoning behind these rules on SIP or lumpsum switches now.

Same asset class – no averaging needed

Why do you question if you should invest at one go or through SIP/STP? Because you’re worried about getting the timing wrong and entering at a high. If there’s a correction after this, your investment value will slide and you may be in losses.

You would think that in equity, given the possibility of loss, staggering investments is better than a lumpsum switch. No. When you do a switch you essentially do the following:

  • You move from one equity fund to another equity fund.
  • You still hold the exact same amount you always did– it is just that you are now holding it in a new fund.
  • Your cost of investment in the new fund is not the switched amount but the original amount you invested. You cannot mistime an entry into an equity fund when your old fund is also equity.

An illustration will help make it clearer. Let’s say you started a monthly SIP of Rs 10,000 in January 2010 (beginning of every month) in HDFC Top 100 and continued it until August 2015. The total amount invested would be Rs 680,000. The value of this investment, as of August 2015 worked out to Rs 10.64 lakh.

At this point, you move from HDFC Top 100 to Kotak Standard Multicap. You switch this amount entirely in one go. Markets became slightly volatile over the succeeding months. From August 2015 to March 2016, Kotak Standard Multicap’s NAV dropped from Rs 24.2 to Rs 20.5 before finally climbing back to Rs 24.6 by July (again, beginning of month only).

See the table below. If you take just the Kotak fund, your investment value would have dropped 7.9% by September 2015. Even in February 2016, the Kotak fund’s investment value was lower by 10.9%. You conclude that you’re in losses and that you mistimed your entry into the Kotak fund.

But your investment cost is not Rs 10.6 lakh. The amount you invested in Kotak Standard Multicap is the SIP amount of HDFC Top 100 plus the gains you made in HDFC Top 100. The Rs 10.63 lakh breaks down into Rs 6.8 lakh in cost and Rs 3.8 lakh in gains. Your investment cost is still Rs 6.8 lakh only. In reality, you have not incurred losses at all. The IRR of the Kotak fund alone at end July 2016 is 1.8%. Your investment IRR is actually 15.9%. There is no question of mistiming your entry.

What if you ran SIPs in the Kotak fund instead of lumpsum, to ‘average’ costs and prevent ‘mistiming’? Again, look at it from the angle of fund cost versus your actual cost. Because markets corrected after the switch, a SIP would have averaged the Kotak fund’s investment cost lower. But as you can see from the table above, there is no way you will be averaging costs below your original level. Your gains are substantial. The only way you would be able to average down using SIP/STP will be if you recently invested in an equity fund and the markets corrected very sharply immediately after your switch as it did this year. This is not very likely.

The graph below shows lumpsum switches between four equity funds over the past 10 years. Even with a correction after switching in Feb 2020, your investment is still in profits.

Long story short?

  • When you switch from one equity fund to another, you are holding the same investment. It is only a different fund.
  • If the market falls, whether you hold fund A or fund B or C, all funds will fall. Though your new fund corrects, remember that your old one would have also corrected. Whether in the old fund or the new fund, the value of your investment dropped because of the market. It does not mean that the new fund is generating a loss for you. It does not mean you mistimed your switch.
  • Unless market corrections are very steep and your holding period has been short, switching from one fund to another through STPs/ SIPs will not average costs down.
  • Look at portfolio returns from your original investment date and not scheme level return.

So, what happens if you decide to run SIPs/STP when you switch between funds in the same asset class? You lose out on the following:

  • Instead of deploying the full money (that was already in equity and compounding), you are deploying in tranches. So, you are losing time and suppressing the compounding from ticking like it was earlier.
  • You will have your money sitting in your savings account until fully deployed or have them in liquid fund with STP and paying tax on such switches right through the STP period!

Time for a caveat about switching within asset class – this is in debt funds. This caveat applies when you are moving from a short duration fund to a long duration fund, say a gilt fund. In such cases, there is a risk that you may be deploying the money at the lowest interest rate point. That means you will get into losses immediately if rates move up while the same would have been avoided in the short duration fund you earlier held. This is fine, provided you wait for 3-5 years to make returns as gilt funds need that kind of time frame. If not, you would actually reduce your near-term returns due to ill-timing the interest rate cycle.

So, the rule of lumpsum switch will readily apply if you are switching within the same duration range- short to short or long to another long fund. If you decide to do lumpsum from a short to long duration fund, be prepared to take short-term pain (which may still be lower than in equity) or use the SIP mode. But do know that the benefits of SIP will not be high in debt as it is with equity.

Changing asset classes

The SIP vs lump sum question comes more into focus when your funds are in different asset classes. Moving between asset classes begets a variety of combinations – but at a broad level it simply boils down to switching into debt/ debt-oriented hybrids or switching into equity and equity-oriented hybrids, from any other category. When you switch between asset classes, you need to be careful in some cases.

Switching into debt/debt-oriented funds: In debt, the possibility of wrong timing is slim in accrual-based funds, given that the nature of these funds is to be less volatile. Whether you make a one-time switch into these funds or spread it out over a period does not make a material difference to your investment cost. In duration funds, as discussed earlier, there are chances you may enter at a time when the interest rate has bottomed.

So if you are switching into a short duration or accrual based fund, a lumpsum switch is fine. If you are switching to long duration funds, unless you understand the rate cycle, ensure you give it the 3-5 year time frame it needs to tide over rate cycles. Do remember, though, that if you are moving closer to your goal and therefore wish to switch from equity to debt, it is not the time to be taking duration calls. Simply do lumpsum switches to safe short duration funds. 

Switching into low-risk, low-volatile hybrid equity categories:  If you switch into equity savings, balanced advantage, and arbitrage – you can do it in a lump sum. Like with debt funds, the low volatility in these categories reduces market timing errors. At worst, balanced advantage funds could be a bit volatile in severe corrections like we saw this year. But this is not common, and they can recover faster than pure equity.

Switching from debt to pure equity fund or aggressive equity hybrid fund: You need to spread out your investments when you are moving from debt to a pure equity or aggressive equity hybrid fund. If your debt and equity fund belong to the same AMC, you can simply set up an STP for 6-18 months, depending on the amount you are moving.

Else, phase out the redemption from the debt fund so that you invest in the equity fund over a period of 6-18 months.  This long leeway we give is again based on market conditions. If you start a SIP in a massive market rally, a longer period of STP is better to tide over a correction (which may happen immediately or later).

So, the next time you need to switch funds , stop worrying over SIP or lumpsum. Simply consider the asset class of the funds. Don’t sweat moving within the same asset class. Spread investments out if you are moving from debt or gold into pure equity funds. It’s that simple!

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