In Singapore, retail investors have a lack of choices if they want to buy a bond as there are very few bonds that are listed on the secondary (retail) market. Wholesale bonds are denominated in sizes of $200,000 and more.
All these is set to change as MAS and SGX looks to make bond investing more easily available to retail investors. This has taken a long time coming as this idea was mooted way back in 2010.
Two consultation papers (one by SGX and one by MAS) have been released to solicit public feedback on this:
Issuers who meet the criteria will be able to issue bonds directly to retail investors without the hassle of coming up with a prospectus. Currently, this is one of the stumbling block as most companies find it easier to simply issue bonds to institutional investors without the additional costs of preparing a prospectus.
Looking at the proposal, it seems they are starting out on a more cautious note as the criteria is quite stringent. There are pros and cons to this approach.
Pros – Lower chance of a default and safer for investors
Cons – The coupon rate will not be so high
I find this an irony as among listed companies, you can already find companies of all sorts of quality – from the sold government-linked blue chip, to the loss making S-chip. There is no barrier to anyone buying shares in such companies and furthermore bond holders are senior to equity holders if the company goes bust.
I feel that they should lower the criteria to enable more companies to raise capital via the retail bond markets and also give investors more choices of what bonds they want to invest in.
Of course, it is essential to make sure that investors who buy bonds know what they are getting into. After all, bonds are fundamentally different from fixed deposits.