How to Invest in Distressed Debt

Possessing wealth is not enough. You also need to invest it in a proper manner, if you wish to enjoy it for a longer period. Most people go for some kind of investment to grow their money. People who are willing to take risks, put their hard-earned money at stake and invest in high-risk investment options like stocks, mutual funds, etc. Those who wish to play it safe, go for a fixed but low-return instrument like bank deposits. No matter what investment option you choose, it is imperative that you think logically, before investing your money in it. You simply cannot afford to allow your investment to shrink due to volatility in the economy. Distressed debt is yet another investment option for the enterprising folks, who are willing to take risks.

How Does it Work?

Distressed debt refers to the bonds of a company, which is not doing well financially. The company might have already filed for bankruptcy or could be heading towards one. When the company faces a financial crisis, it can choose to sell its bonds to new buyers, in order to attract capital. Thus, it simply means investing in the bonds of a failing company. In such a scenario, the company usually sells its bonds at dirt cheap prices. This is often the last resort to recover from a financial turmoil. Mostly, these buyers are financial entities such as mutual funds, private equity firms, brokerage firms, hedge funds, and specialized debt funds. These entities have their own criteria, which enables them to invest in the right companies. They usually check a company’s background on the basis of following parameters:

– Does it have any legal problems?
– Does it have overextended debts?
– Are there any operational issues?
– Has it been underperforming?
– Does it have potential for recovery in the future?


Returns on investment are usually high, if you invest in the right company. Such buyers are more interested in buying the debts of a company, rather than its equity shares. This is because in an event of liquidation, debt owners are given priority over equity holders, meaning that debts are liquidated before equity. The buyers often get a good return on their investment as the debt liquidates at a much higher price than its initial selling price. If the company survives, then the buyers have a greater stake in the restructuring of the company. Mergers, takeovers, and internal restructuring are some of the ways of resurrecting a failing company. If the company does well after reorganization, the investors can still claim a profit share.


Just like any other investment option, distressed debt investment is also not free of risks. Although, buyers of such debts often make neat profits, they may have to endure huge financial losses in certain cases. If the company does not perform well, even after restructuring, then the investors may not get any return on their bonds. During liquidation, the proceeds may turn out to be pretty expensive, thereby reducing the profit margin drastically. To minimize the risks, you need to thoroughly analyze the financial situation of a company before investing.

Distressed debt investment is exclusively for those who possess the requisite knowledge and acumen. It is definitely not for the novices in the field of investment.

Investment Advice for Beginners

Ideally, most people would like to earn money with as little effort as possible. Risk averse individuals, with sufficient liquidity, may consider depositing their money in Money Market Accounts (MMAs) that offer a rate of return that is comparable to the interest earned on a CD (certificate of deposit). Unlike a CD, there are no penalties for early withdrawal from a MMA. Moreover, the money that is deposited in a MMA is insured. Hence, people who are risk averse, have sufficient liquidity, and are interested in regular withdrawals would do well to deposit their money in a MMA in lieu of temporary financial investment.

How do Beginners Choose their Investments?

Stock Investments
Stock investment/trading confers upon the investor the opportunity to reap dividends and earn by way of capital appreciation. The preferred stock investing strategy, viz. capital preservation or capital appreciation, will determine the kind of (shares) investment that should be pursued by someone who intends to play the market. Investing in companies that are in the mature growth phase of the business cycle, and have been undervalued by the stock market, will result in the investor earning dividend income in addition to capital gains. In case of dividend-yielding stocks, the intrinsic value of a share is assessed using the Dividend Discount Model (DDM) while the return on investment (ROI) can be calculated using the following formula:

Return on Investment = (D1+P1- P0) / P0

D1 = Dividend Received
P1 = Selling Price
P0 = Purchase Price

Technical analysis may prove handy for those who are adept at reading graphs and charts, and looking for patterns and replications. Fundamental analysis, on the other hand, is useful for people who are comfortable with analyzing financial statements (10-Ks and the 10-Qs) in order to determine market timing. This is because investors relying on fundamental analysis believe that the price of a security may be mispriced in the short run, but will eventually correct itself over a period of time. Investors, who are solely interested in capital appreciation, should opt for growth stocks since value investing will not yield the desired results.

Mutual Funds Investment
Mutual funds are good investments for people who would prefer relying on the expertise of a fund manager. The latter raises money by issuing shares whose net asset value (NAV) is the difference between the fund’s assets and it’s liabilities. Price per share and NAV are equal if one invests in funds that do not have a front load. The money that is raised is invested in stocks, bonds, and other securities in accordance with the fund’s mandate, viz. capital preservation and/or capital appreciation. Interest from bonds and dividends from stocks, that are either distributed to the shareholder in the form of cash or additional shares, and capital gains from the investment fund are contingent on the ability of the manager to pick out appropriate investments.

Investing in treasury bonds that are issued by the US government provides the bondholder the opportunity of receiving regular interest income. The government issues treasury bills, notes, and bonds; I Savings Bonds and EE/E Savings Bonds. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) provides a hedge against inflation, so that the expected and the accrued ROI are the same. The aforementioned fixed income securities are exempt from state and municipal taxes but are federally taxed. In addition to these securities, municipal bonds, viz. General Obligation Bonds (GO) and Revenue Bonds are also worthwhile investments. It would behoove the investor to note that treasury bills are sold at discount to par, and the return to the bondholder is the appreciation in the value of the bill.

Alternate Investments
Investing in commodities in addition to investing in stocks and bonds is an excellent way of diversifying one’s portfolio, since the relationship between commodity price index and the price of bonds and stocks is generally inverse. In addition to commodities, options trading is also very profitable for experienced traders. However, these investments entail a great deal of risk and may not be suitable for a novice.

Hopefully, the above article would have provided useful investment advice for beginners. People who are uncomfortable with the aforementioned investments can try their hand at passive income opportunities, since leveraged and residual passive income opportunities are a dime a dozen.