Best for investors to stay clear of products they don't understand

While I empathise with investors suffering financially in the fallout of the Swiber Holdings saga, matters need to be viewed in perspective ("Swiber saga: DBS says bond sales driven by demand"; last Saturday, and "Bondholders bracing themselves for losses"; July 30).

Investing always involves risks, and corporate bonds are no different. When high yields are offered (as in the case of Swiber, of up to 7.125 per cent in 2013), investors should bear in mind the adage of "high returns, high risks".

If an investor does not comprehend the associated risks of an investment product explained in an understandable language, he should stay away, or proceed at his own risk.

Corporate bonds (or shares) are investments that have a secondary market. If, at any time, an investor is uncomfortable with the risk, he can sell his shares or dispose of his bonds even if it means taking a loss.

Last year, Swiber took a hit, with a first-time loss that continued until this year because of depressed global oil prices.

Listed companies publish quarterly financials, so shareholders, bondholders and lenders are kept duly informed.

Therefore, Swiber's losses and a depressed oil industry should have warranted a credit-risk evaluation for all affected parties involved.

For investors, it would be time to make a decision to sell their investments (or not) and incur a probable loss. Unfortunately, many investors find it painful to stomach losses, so they hope and pray that Swiber will improve over time.

The Swiber saga will not be the last. Banks and investors need to do their own homework and make the best informed decisions - or suffer the consequences.

For the man in the street, even the wealthier ones, if one does not understand the complexity of risks in investment products, then it is better to continue doing what one knows best, or leave the money in safe bets such as fixed deposits.

Raymond Koh Bock Swi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline 'Best for investors to stay clear of products they don't understand'. Print Edition | Subscribe