Happy Holidays and a Prosperous 2015 from FinQuiz

Another year has almost passed and I just wanted to wish all of our readers Happy Holidays and a prosperous new year. We’ve been running the FinQuiz blog for nearly three years now and the support from candidates has been amazing. Hundreds of thousands of candidates have clicked through to the FinQuiz blog and we’re looking forward to continuing that success with great CFA exam advice that will bring hundreds of thousands more to the blog over the next couple of years.

Our Community of Candidates is the Best Holiday Gift

Since 2012, more than 200,000 people have clicked through to the Finquiz blog and viewed more than 600,000 pages of CFA study tips and curriculum notes. That loyal and regular support by candidates like yourself is the best holiday wish we could imagine.

Almost as great as the sheer number of candidates that have visited the blog has been the reach to all corners of the globe. The blog has been accessed from 201 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe.

The feedback from CFA candidates has been great and has really motivated me in our weekly blog posts. Not only have candidates shared their success on the exams but have also provided valuable feedback that helped us improve the notes and question bank.

“I managed to pass my Level 3 exam this round and the team at FinQuiz was instrumental to my success. Thanks to the wealth of questions available in your question bank, my item set scores are significantly better in this attempt. Joseph’s blogs are not only a source of inspiration, they also helped me in pacing the materials week by week.” Kah Juay Lee, CFA (Passed CFA Level III, 2013)

Of course, the blog is our way of communicating with candidates and putting out the most important information on the exams but it all is in support of our unique system of curriculum notes and exam prep packages. The unique system of notes rather than curriculum substitution has helped candidates beat the abysmal pass rate across the exams.

“Without the help of FinQuiz, I do not believe I would have scored >70% in 8 of 10 areas. FinQuiz tested the difficult areas that other question-banks will not cover. This boosted my confidence and clearly helped me on exam day.” David Young (Passed CFA Level II, 2010)

Upward for 2015

We’re not resting on our past successes. We have some great plans for 2015 and ideas for tips and products that will help every one of our candidates pass the CFA exam. We will start leading up to the June 2015 CFA exams in June with a recap of the curriculum changes and your basic strategy on the exams.

Each week on the blog, you’ll find all the best advice and tricks to get the most points possible on the CFA exams. We’ve tried to make the blog relevant to candidates even beyond the exams with regular posts on career advice, networking and using the designation to the fullest.

We’re always here for you and love to hear from candidates. Send a note if you have any questions or comments and keep clicking through each week for more blog posts.

‘til next time, Happy Holidays!
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Level 2 CFA Curriculum Changes 2015

The readings and Learning Outcome Statements (LOS) are out for the 2015 CFA curriculum and there have been some significant changes. Make sure you download the curriculum outline and new LOS from the CFA Institute website.

The most surprising change has been a modification of the topic area percentage weights on the exams. The previous topic weights had been the same for years, before I was a candidate, and no one really saw the changes coming. The actual changes are relatively marginal but still surprising.

Level 2 Changes

The topic weight for Ethics & Professional Standards has increased from a fixed 10% weight to a range of 10% to 15% on the exam. The range on Financial Reporting & Analysis has been tightened to 15% to 20% of your exam score, slightly decreasing its potential importance from a high of 25%. The importance of Equity Investments has also decreased with a new weighting range of 15% to 25%, from 20% to 30% previously. The range on Alternative Investments decreased to 5% to 10% (5% to 15% previously) while the range for Fixed Income Investments increased to 10% to 20% (from 5% to 15% previously).

There are six new readings to the Level 2 exam (one in FRA, one in Corporate Finance and four in Fixed Income) while 10 readings have been removed (two in Ethics, two in FRA, one in Alternative Assets and five in Fixed Income).

New Readings:

(20) Evaluating Quality of Financial Reports
(25) Corporate Performance, Governance and Business Ethics
(42) Term Structure and Interest Rate Dynamics
(43) Arbitrage-Free Valuation Framework
(44) Valuation and Analysis: Bonds with Embedded Options
(46) Introduction to Asset-Backed Securities

Dropped Readings:
(3) CFA Institute Soft Dollar Standards
(10) Prudence in Perspective
(22) The Lessons We Learn
(23) Evaluating Financial Reporting Quality
(43) Investing in Hedge Funds: A Survey
(46) Term Structure and Volatility of Interest Rates
(47) Valuing Bonds with Embedded Options
(48) Mortgage-Backed Sector of the Bond Market
(49) Asset-Backed Sector of the Bond Market
(50) Valuing Mortgage-Backed and Asset-Backed Securities

The Ethics & Professional Standards topic has gotten a little easier with the removal of some supplementary readings. You still have the case studies but almost all the material is a repeat of what you saw at the Level 1 curriculum. The new edition of the Code and Standards is not materially different from the previous edition. Some of the standards have been modified to include a more proactive requirement, i.e. the need for supervisors to take positive steps to promote compliance rather than just prevention. The new chapter on ‘Ethics and the Investment Industry’ provides a strong argument for ethical conduct and integrity of the markets.

If you compare last year’s readings with the 2015 readings, you’ll notice that many have been changed rather than necessarily added or dropped entirely. This is good news for repeat candidates since it means that the LOS have not changed as dramatically as the readings. Of all the changes, I would probably pay the most attention to Fixed Income. The readings have been changed significantly and the topic weight on the exam has increased as well.

The common belief is that there is a higher chance of new material, i.e. new readings, appearing on the exams. I am not sure this is true or if it is even intentional by the Institute if it does happen. I would still recommend focusing on those topic areas with the most weighting whether they include new readings or not. The Level 2 CFA exam is all about the details and formulas. Where the Level 1 exam was about ‘why’ things are done, the Level 2 exam is about ‘how’ they are done so make sure you are able to work through formulas and processes.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Free Cash Flows and the Level II CFA Exam

I’ve had quite a few questions on the Free Cash Flow material for the level 2 CFA exam so thought I would put together a post on the topic. Free cash flow is an extremely important measurement and you will need it extensively in the equity section of the exams as well as in your professional career. It represents the cash available to either equity investors or all capital providers after all working capital and fixed capital needs have been reduced.

Free Cash Flow to the Firm (FCFF) is the cash flow available to all capital providers (debt and equity) and equals:

Net income + Net noncash Charges (depreciation and amortization) – Investment in working capital – Investment in Fixed capital + after tax interest expense

FCFF is discounted at the weighted average cost of capital (WACC) since it is the after-tax cash flow to all suppliers of capital.

Free Cash Flow to Equity (FCFE) is the cash flow available to common shareholders and equals:

Net income + Net noncash Charges (depreciation and amortization) – Investment in working capital – Investment in Fixed +/- net borrowing

  • Notice that FCFE is FCFF except without adding back interest expense and taking net borrowing into account.
  • Understand how to arrive at FCFE or FCFF with CFO
  • FCFF = CFO + INT (1-t) – invest fixed capital
  • FCFE= CFO – invest fixed capital +/- net borrowing +/- net change in preferred shares

FCFE is discounted at the required rate of return for equity since it is the cash flow only to equity shareholders. Using the WACC for FCFE will overestimate equity value since the weighted average cost will be lower than the cost of equity.

FCFE is a more direct way to value equity, so preferred but FCFF may be preferred when the company has a volatile capital structure or is highly leveraged.

The most difficult part in FCF calculations, for me, was the adjustments to net income to arrive at FCFF. Remember: depreciation, amortization, restructuring expenses, losses on fixed asset sales, deferred tax liabilities, after-tax interest expenses and preferred stock dividends are all added back to net income. Any gains on the sale of fixed assets, the amortization of long-term bond premiums, deferred tax assets, and investments in FC and WC are all subtracted from net income.

It’s a pain but you absolutely have to understand and be able to calculate all the approaches of FCF estimation: net income, net cash flow, EBIT, EBITDA, and FCFE from FCFF. Start with the calculation from net income to get a good feel for the adjustments and what is being built into FCF, this should make the other equations more intuitive. Not only will practicing these formulas help get you points on the exam but they also help with a better understanding of the Statement of Cash Flows and how funding works for a company.

FCF models for valuation are most appropriate when the company does not pay a dividend and/or when the investor has a controlling share or influence in the company. FCF models may not be as appropriate for fast-growing companies with high capital expenditures and negative free cash flows.

As always, try to first understand the basic concept of what FCF means and what is happening in the formulas. Understand what non-cash items and capital expenditures are on the Statement of Cash Flows and why they added or subtracted to arrive at free cash flow. Understanding the accounting in terms of why things are adjusted instead of just numbers and symbols will go a long way to your success on the exams and as an analyst.

As with all topics, you need to understand the major difference between important concepts (i.e. FCFE versus FCFF) and when it is most appropriate to use each. Also understand the advantages, disadvantages and assumptions within the models. Understanding these conceptual ideas will get you a lot of the points even if your memory on the formulas fails you.

Less than a month to the exam, let me know if you have any questions and good luck.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Making Level I Success a Step to Level II

If you’re a CFA level 1 candidate, your top priority right now is to pass that first hurdle and enjoy a well-earned six months of rest. The last thing you want to think about is putting in your time on the next two exams.

But if I told you that there was something you could do while studying for the CFA level 1 exam that would save you a lot of time next year, would you be interested?

You bet you would!

Remembering a few key points while studying for the first exam could help you pass the level 2 exam and even give you a head start on the third exam as well.

Relationships between the CFA exams

The secret is understanding the related material across the exams and what you need from one exam to the next. While the topic areas across all three exams are all related to an extent, there are a few in which your work on earlier exams is absolutely imperative to passing.

Ethics and Professional Standards is probably the most consistent across all three exams. You will see a couple of new sections in the level 2 and 3, but the core material is exactly the same. The topic area is worth more nearly 12% of your total score across all three exams so definitely points you can’t afford to miss.

Not only is the topic extremely important across the exams, it’s been my experience from candidate comments that it is the one they are most often disappointed by on the first exam. Candidates assume they are ethical people and will be able to pick the correct answer out of the three possibles. They neglect the section and then are surprised at how difficult it is on the exam. Spend a little extra time on this area, do the end of chapter problems and save yourself a ton of time and stress in the next two exams.

Quantitative methods is another topic where mastery of the CFA level 1 curriculum will pay off big time on the second exam. While it is not a high-point section, only 12% of your first exam and 5% – 10% of the second, understanding the material in the CFA level 1 is critical to do the work on the next exam. The level 2 curriculum usually even includes optional refresher material for those candidates that didn’t learn or forgot the prior material. Think of it as the difference between two mathematics courses, one teaching the basics of multiplication and the other moving on to algebra. You would be absolutely lost in the algebra class without mastering the prior course.

Financial Reporting and Analysis is one of two or three core topics to the entire curriculum and worth more than a fifth of your first two exams. The readings on the financials statements in the first exam must be mastered to be able to do the intense analysis work in the second exam. Talk to almost any level 2 candidate and they will tell you that one of the hardest parts of the exam is the FRA material, especially intercorporate investments, multi-national operations and pensions. To be able to understand these readings, you must understand the relationships between the financial statements which is Level 1 material. Save yourself the time of reviewing this by mastering it early.

Study session 14 in the Equity Investments topic area will also be a very important reading for progressing to the level 2 exam. In fact, it looks like a lot of the level 1 material is repeated in the level 2 curriculum. Equity Investments are a quarter of your total score at the second level so you want to be ready for the topic.

The usual disclaimer applies that you cannot afford to completely neglect any topic area. You will need around 70% on your exam to pass to the next level. These exams are extremely difficult on a mental and physical level so do not expect to get all the points in any one section. Spend enough time on the secondary topic areas so you can get at least 60% or more and then focus on the higher-point and higher-importance sections.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Do Not Let the CFA Level 2 Exam Surprise You

The pass rate for the CFA level 2 exam has only been lower than that of the first exam in three of the last 10 years. For many candidates, that is a welcome relief after a grueling introduction to the exams and it must mean that the second exam is easier. Right?

Wrong! And it catches a lot of candidates off guard.

While the CFA level 2 exam may indeed be easier for a few, most candidates find it incredibly difficult especially compared to the CFA level 1 exam. Which exam is the most difficult for you will obviously depend on your own abilities but you need to go into the second exam knowing exactly what you are facing.

Quantitative Monster

It is often said that the CFA level 1 curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep because it covers a huge range of material but really only teaches to the basic ideas within each. The CFA level 2 material covers the same topics but seems to focus more on the detail within a few. While the range of material can still seem daunting, candidates usually agree that the level two curriculum is a mile deep and maybe a few feet wide (to paraphrase the saying).

This becomes a little clearer looking at the topic weights across the exams. While the first exam is more evenly spread out, the second exam is more focused in a couple of topics. In fact, Financial Reporting & Analysis and Equity Investments alone will account for between 35% to 55% of your entire score.

This is obvious enough to anyone preparing for the exam. What is not so obvious is the quantitative difficulty you will see on the exam. Those problem sets are a monster!

Given that nearly half of the exam could be from just two topic areas, I hope I don’t have to tell you where you should be spending your time. You absolutely must know the FRA and Equity material, especially the formulas.

We covered some of the most important formulas on last year’s exam in three posts (First, Second, Third) and linked here. Almost all will still be applicable to this year’s exam so feel free to look through the posts for hints on each.

There’s two things you can do to help get through the formulas.

  • First, you need to understand what is conceptually happening in the formula. Trying to understand the myriad of symbols is crazy. If  WACC = (Vd/(Vd +Vce))rd (1-t) + (Vce/(Vd+Vce))rce) doesn’t make you go cross-eyed you are a stronger person than I am. Think about it intuitively and it makes sense. The overall cost of a firm’s funding capital is the cost and proportion of equity and debt. The percentage of each funding type relative to the total is multiplied by its cost. Debt is tax advantaged, so you need the after-tax cost.
  • Secondly, you have to work these formulas through practice and repetition. One of the most popular posts here shows that active learning (engaging the material through practice and conversation) allows you to remember much more than passive learning. The best way to approach tough formulas is to put them on flash cards. We covered the importance of flash cards and why you should make your own set in the previous post.

Just because a higher percentage of candidates usually pass the second exam than the first doesn’t necessarily mean it is easier. Think of it this way, candidates are fully aware of the immense challenge presented by the exams after the first test and still less than half typically pass the second exam. That should give you an idea of difficulty on the CFA Level 2 exam.

The good news is that tens of thousands of candidates pass the exam every year and you can too. Focus on those formulas, especially in the high-point topic areas, and you will do well. Less than two months ahead of the CFA exams. Be ready.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

5 Things I Wish I Knew about the CFA Level II Exam

We’ve already covered the top five things you should know about the CFA Level I Exam and about the exams in general. The Level II Exam is, in mine and many other candidates, the most difficult level of the three CFA exams and it might be hard to narrow it down to just five things.

  • Don’t Underestimates the Exam

I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of the Level I exam. The exam was not necessarily easy but it was less detailed than I was expecting and I had studied more than I probably needed. While I am not sure that I consciously underestimated the Level II exam, I may not have studied as hard as I did for the first exam. The exam was harder than I anticipated and I was sweating bullets for the full six hours.

The CFA Level II Exam is arguably the most difficult of the three and also possibly the most important. It includes some of the most important valuation and analysis techniques that you will use as an analyst. Spend as much time as you can devote to learning the material.

  • It’s all about the Detail

While the first exam seemed a mile wide and an inch deep, the level II exam is a mile deep but covers less breadth. Sure there are still the 18 study sessions covering the same topic areas, but it seemed like only a fraction of the material in each topic was important but that fractional portion went into amazing detail.

Case in point, the financial reporting topic in the level I exam barely scratches the surface with a general description of the statements and how the relate to each other. In the level II exam, you will be looking at the accounting for individual line items within the statements and the calculations can get extremely lengthy. The CFA Level I exam was mostly questions on qualitative concepts, the Level II exam is much more quantitative.

  • Practice the vignette structure

The item-set structure of the CFA Level II exam throws some candidates. While the questions usually appear in the order that information appears in the vignette, it can still be a lot to read and remember.

There are two approaches to the structure. Some candidates prefer to read the questions quickly to get an idea for the information for which they are looking. Then they read through the vignette and underline relevant data. The second approach is to read through the vignette first, underlining data that looks important, and then go through the questions. After having gone through the curriculum and practice problems, you’ll have an idea of important information so it’s not entirely a guessing game.

  • Don’t buy your flashcards

Practice problems are even more important when studying for the Level II exam. The test is very quant-focused and there are quite a few accounting processes that you must remember within the FRA topic area.

Writing down the problems and processes is a much more effective learning technique than simply reading pre-made cards (remember active learning?). After working through the curriculum once, make flashcards for the more difficult and important LOS on your second run. Instead of simply writing the calculation and variables, try to make the cards as much like word problems as possible to simulate the exam. After several runs through your flashcards, you may even try re-writing the ones that are most difficult.

  • You are not alone

Despite being a self-study course, understand that you do not have to go it alone. There are really two tips here. First, you are in the middle of one of the most difficult professional curricula out there. You passed the first exam but it may be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Most candidates approach their breaking point studying for the Level II and you need a support system to get you through. Friends and family are the obvious choice but seek out a couple of candidates as well. Take 15 minutes a week to talk about your studying and motivate each other.

You may also need help getting through some of the intense calculations and accounting within the Level II curriculum. No matter how hard I tried, I could not seem to get through the derivatives material. Whether it’s another candidate or someone with professional knowledge in the topic, it may be helpful to have someone explain it from another perspective.

Half of passing the exams is studying more effectively and not being surprised on that first Saturday in June. Knowing and avoiding some of the biggest mistakes candidates make will put you well ahead and help to get you through to the next exam. We will cover the five most important tips for the CFA Level III exam next week.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Help! I passed all three exams but the Institute denied my charter!

“I got that email that every candidate waits for saying that I passed the Level 3 exam and was able to submit my application for membership to the CFA Institute and receive my charter. I was so happy I spent the next hour calling and emailing friends and family. My happiness was quickly turned to pain and disappointment a couple of months later when my application was denied!”

This is an excerpt from an email I received last year in December and is pretty typical of ones I get each year. The problem is almost always the same, lack of approved work experience.

Before you receive your charter and are approved for Institute membership, you must:

  • Pass all three exams
  • Have two sponsors fill out the Institute’s      sponsorship application, one supervisor and one member of the local CFA      society
  • Meet the requirements for 48 months of ‘qualifying’      work experience
  • Pay member dues and sign the Professional Conduct      Statement

The requirement for 48 months of ‘qualifying’ work experience catches more candidates than you would think. The Institute fairly narrowly defines ‘qualified’ and will deny your application if your experience does not fit the mold.

‘Qualifying’ Work Experience
Below is the guidance from the Institute on what is considered ‘qualifying’ work experience.

  • Evaluating or applying financial, economic, and/or statistical data as part of the investment decision-making process involving securities or similar investments (e.g., publicly traded and privately placed stocks, bonds, and mortgages and their derivatives; commodity-based derivatives and mutual funds; and other investment assets, such as real estate and commodities, if these are held as part of a diversified, securities-oriented investment portfolio).
  • Engaged in responsibilities and/or producing work or work product that informs or adds value to those decisions.
  • Supervising, directly or indirectly, persons who practice these activities.
  • Teaching such activities.

The problem is that the definition provided is fairly broad while the actual criteria used in judging applications is more narrow.

In fact, my first application for membership in 2011 was denied for lack of experience. I was denied credit for my three years of work as a financial analyst since my role in the investment decision-making process was not clear.

Follow the Learning Outcome Statements
First, if you are a level one or level two candidate then you’re in luck and still have a few years to get the experience you need. If you are working in a front-office position and you’re job is directly involved in the decision-making process, you’re also in luck and shouldn’t have a problem.

If you do receive that disappointing letter, you can always provide more detail on your job duties. Focus on the learning outcome statements, especially those in the level 3 exam, and how they fit with your job duties. Every company makes investments of resources in projects and most personnel help in the decision-making process in some way. You just have to find your place in the process. After providing more detail on my work experience, including a rewrite of duties more closely related to the exam LOS, I was approved for membership and received my charter.

If you are not approved for membership even after re-applying, it’s not the end of the world. You will be given affiliate member status and will enjoy all the benefits of Institute membership but will not be able to vote. Leverage your ‘charter pending’ status into a job where your duties directly affect the decision-making process and reapply when you meet the 48 months requirement.

‘til next time, countin’ the days to start the 2014 study season
Joseph Hogue, CFA

2014 Level 2 CFA Exam Changes

The changes to the 2014 CFA Level 2 exam are not as extensive as we’ve seen in the past but there are a few important differences. There are seven new readings and a few ones that have been dropped. All the new readings will have new LOS, though they may be similar to past LOS.

If you’re new to the exam, I wouldn’t change my study schedule too much for the curriculum changes but make sure you have a good grasp of the material. Those repeating the exam will want to focus on the new material since most of the old material will be relatively fresh in your mind.

The Standards and ethics material is the same next year as it has been in the past.

The material in quantitative methods (Study Session 3) and economics (Study Session 4) are basically the same, though some of the LOS have been split or combined but this won’t change the ideas or formulas that you need to know.

Study Session 6, Financial Reporting and Analysis, includes the same three readings (19-21) but they have been updated from last year. LOS 21b and 21h-j have been added and require a more detailed understanding of currency transaction exposure and multinational accounting.

Study Session 8, corporate finance, has not changed though some of the LOS have been split, combined or have slightly different wording. Again, these changes really do not affect what you need to study or understand. Focus on the bigger changes.

The Lessons we Learn, reading 22; Study Session 7 has also been updated

Study Session 11, Equity Valuation (Industry and Company Analysis) has seen the most changes with the addition of two new readings; Reading 33, “Your Strategy Needs a Strategy,” and Reading 34, “Industry and Company Analysis.”

The two new readings strike me as very similar to the Five Forces reading, more management-related than the rest of the curriculum. As an analyst, you need to be able to understand business models and management perspective but a lot of this stuff always seemed too theoretical to me. Easy to remember though.

Reading 44, “A Primer on Commodity Investing,” has been added to Study Session 13, Alternative Investments. The material is fairly close to that in the commodities reading that was dropped from the Level 1 curriculum this year. This happens often where the Institute moves the focus of material from one year to another. The LOS in the new reading look fairly basic and it shouldn’t be a problem for candidates.

Fundamentals of Credit Analysis (Reading 42, 2013) in the Fixed Income material has been replaced by Reading 45, Credit Analysis Models in Study Session 14. While the LOS have changed, they appear to cover mostly the same ideas and concepts. If anything, the new LOS are a bit more quantitatively focused.

Credit Derivatives: An Overview (Reading 53, 2013) has been replaced by Reading 56, Credit Default Swaps in Study Session 15. The new material actually looks a little easier because it is more narrowly focused on Swaps rather than all credit derivatives.

Study Session 18, Portfolio Management has also seen some pretty big changes. The Theory of Active Portfolio Management (Reading 55, 2013) has been dropped and two new readings have been added; Reading 58, “Residual Risk and Return: The Information Ratio” and Reading 59, “The Fundamental Law of Active Management.” Both of these new readings turn the focus to a quantitative approach to active management from last year’s focus on theory.

That concludes our review of the changes to the three exams for the 2014 season. We’ve still got a while before you need to start worrying about a study schedule so we’ll probably cover some miscellaneous topics or answer some questions in the coming weeks. Let me know if there’s anything you want covered.

‘til next time, take a break!
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Must Know CFA Level 2 Formulas, part 3

This is the last of three posts covering the must know formulas for the Level 2 CFA exam. In this post we’ll cover study sessions 13 through 18. The other two posts can be found here: part 1 and part 2.

SS13- Alternative Investments

The Learning outcome statements say you need to be able to calculate the value of real estate over all three approaches; income, cost and sales but the focus of the curriculum is clearly on the income approach and understanding net operating income (NOI). The cost and sales approach to valuation are fairly simple. Cost is just the total expense of creating a similar property while the sales approach looks at the square foot value of similar properties that have sold on the open market.

Of the three valuation methods using income, the direct capitalization is the most important though you also need to understand the DCF and multiplier methods. The discounted cash flows method is just like any other DCF where you take the cash flows over the life of the investment along with a terminal value and discount them to a present value. The multiplier method involves multiplying the gross income from a property by a multiple derived from sales data on similar properties.

The direct capitalization approach revolves around finding the net operating income (NOI) and a cap rate which is the rate of return required by investors.

Gross rental income minus vacancy or collection losses is the effective gross income. The effective gross minus (utilities, taxes, insurance, maintenance, management and advertising) equals the NOI.

* Remember –financing costs and federal income taxes are not subtracted for NOI because the value is independent of financing and is a before-tax, unleveraged measure of income. Depreciation is also not removed.

The cap rate will usually be given or you will need to calculate it from sales and NOI data from similar properties. Otherwise, the cap rate can be found by (discount rate minus growth rate) as well.

The property value is then NOI/cap rate.

Understand how to arrive at the NAV of a REIT and calculate the NAV per share as well as the concept of Funds from Operation (FFO) and REIT price multiples. Understand the difference between FFO and bottom-line earnings and why FFO is a better metric for REITs.

NAV per share = (market value of real estate company’s assets – market value of company’s liabilities)/number of shares outstanding.

The private equity section is testable as well with formulas for distributed to paid in (DPI), residual value to paid in (RVPI), and total value to paid in (TVPI). You also need to know the pre-money and post-money valuation as well as the ownership fraction and price per share in venture capital financing.

DPI= sum of distributions/ cumulative capital called down
RVPI = NAV after distributions/ cumulative capital called down
TVPI (also called the investment multiple) is = DPI + RVPI

SS14- Fixed Income Valuation Concepts

Be sure to understand all the financial ratios in credit analysis like: operating profit margin, debt/EBITDA, EBIT or EBITDA to interest expense, and debt/capital.

Understand that the impact on return may be different for small and large yield changes. The impact on return for small, instantaneous changes is (-modified duration)* the change in the spread, while the impact for a large change in yield is (-modified duration*spread change) plus ½ convexity * (change in spread squared).

You may also need to value a callable or putable bond using an interest rate tree.
constructing a binomial interest rate tree.
1)      Given the coupon rate and maturity, use the yield on the current 1-year on-the-run issue for today’s rate.
2)      Assume the level of rate volatility
3)      Given the coupon rate and market value of the 2-year on-the-run issue, select a value of the lower rate and compute the upper rate. R1,u= r1,l * e2volatility

R1,u is the upper rate (1 reflects the interest rate starting in year 1 and u reflects the higher of the two rates in year 1)
Volatility is the assumed volatility of the 1-period rate

e is the natural antilogarithm, 2.71828
4)      Compute the bond’s value one year from now using the interest rate tree
5)      If the value calculated using the model is greater than the market price, use the higher rate of r1,l and recomputed r1,u and then calculate the new value of the on-the-run issue using new rates. If the value is too low, decrease the interest rates in the tree.
6)      The five steps are repeated with a different value for the lower rate until the value estimated by the model is equal to the market price.

SS15- Structured Securities

Be able to calculate the prepayment amount on a passthrough security given a monthly mortality rate. Remember, the single monthly mortality (SMM) is the prepayment/(beginning mortgage balance – scheduled principal payment)

The annualized SMM is the conditional prepayment rate (CPR) and is 1-(1-SMM)12

SS16- Derivatives: Forwards and Futures

The two study sessions covering derivatives are where the formulas get especially intense. You can’t afford to neglect the material because it is worth between 5% and 15% of your total exam score. Start by understanding the basic concepts behind the formulas to give yourself a chance at an educated guess if you forget the formula itself.

Be able to price equity or fixed-income forward as well as find the value of the contract over its life. Remember, the price of a forward is based on an arbitrage relationship between the contract and the underlying determined by how much it would cost to buy and hold the asset using borrowed funds. Knowing this means that you need the current price, interest rate, any cash flows in or out, and the contract length to be able to calculate the forward contract.  

Forward = (S0 – PV(CF))(1+r)t
You should be able to work through an arbitrage scenario given these data points and the price of a forward contract, first understanding if an arbitrage profit is available then calculating the profit.

Forward rate agreements are also very testable so be able to value a contract. FRA are agreements to pay (or receive) a set interest rate and receive (or pay) a floating rate that is determined at contract expiration.

The payoff on a FRA is = Notational times ( underlying rate at expiration – forward contract rate)(days in underlying rate/360) divided by (1+underlying rate at expiration (days in underlying/360))

It may seem like an intimidating formula but it is really just the difference in rates at expiration multiplied by a time factor relative to the contract length. Make sure you use 360 for the days in a year.

SS17- Derivatives: Options, Swaps, and Rate Derivatives

Being able to calculate synthetic positions using options is a matter of knowing the put-call parity formula.  The relationship says that the value of a call plus the (strike price divided by (1+risk free rate)t) should be equal to the value of a put and the underlying asset.

C0 + (x/(1+Rf)T) = P0 + S0

Rearranging this formula, you can find the price for synthetic positions by putting C0, P0, or S0 alone on one side of the equation.

Be able to calculate the payment to a cap or floor holder.

Payment to cap is the max of either zero or notational*(index rate – cap strike rate)*(days in settlement period/360)

While the payment to the floor holder is the max of either zero or notational*(floor strike rate – index rate)*(days in settlement period/360)

The swaps material can be lengthy and complicated with formulas for the fixed payment, floating payment and for the pricing. Remember that currency swaps involve two different currencies and the notational principal is usually exchanged at initiation.

SS18- Portfolio Management
Portfolio management becomes the focus on the Level 3 exam, so it really pays to learn the material on the second exam to save time next year. The expected return and standard deviation on a two-asset portfolio is a common question and fairly easy. Remember that the return is just the weighted returns of the assets while you’ll need the variance and correlation coefficient for the standard deviation.

Varianceportfolio = w2121+w22 σ22+ 2w1w2(correlation) σ1 σ2
*Remember to take the square root of the variance to get the standard deviation.

Also be able to calculate the expected return on an asset given factor sensitivities and factor risk premiums, which is basically just a regression-type formula.

The formulas in these three posts should get you started on the list of most likely to show up on the exam. While you cannot take a formula sheet into the test with you, it’s a good idea to write one up just to practice the formulas and commit them to memory.

A little over a week left to the exam. 
‘til next week, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Must Know CFA Level 2 Formulas, part 2

We covered the first five study sessions worth of formulas in last week’s post and will continue with study sessions 6-12 this week. Again, this is not a complete list of every calculation you will need on the Level 2 exam but the formulas in the curriculum that stand out to me as particularly important. At a minimum, you should know these and the conceptual material surrounding their assumptions and strengths/limitations.

SS6- FRA Intercorporate Investments, Post-Employment and Share-based Compensation, and Multinational Operations

Most of the FRA material is more knowing the accounting and procedures rather than complex formulas. Once you know what adjustments or expenses to be made to a beginning entry then the calculations are really little more than addition/subtraction.

The pension material is important here and you’ll see the same accounting in the next exam as well. Be able to calculate the defined benefit pension obligation and the net pension liability or asset. For the ending DBO = Beginning + Service Cost + Interest Cost +/- Past service cost from current amendments +/- actuarial gains or losses in the current period – benefits paid

Be able to calculate the pension expense and economic pension expense as well.

The translation effects on the balance sheet and income statement through the temporal and current rate methods is something that has been in the curriculum for a while and often appears on the exam. Remember, the gains and losses from the use of the temporal method go directly to the income statement whereas the gains/losses from the current rate method go to the CTA in the stockholders’ equity section of the balance sheet. The balancing ‘plug’ number for the current rate method is the cumulative translation adjustment while the plug number for the temporal method is retained earnings and the gain from translation on the income statement.

SS7  – FRA Earnings Quality Issues and Ratio Analysis
This is mostly a conceptual reading with some basic ratios and no real formula work

SS8- Corporate Finance

Economic profit is a fairly important formula here with the other formulas (i.e. market value added, residual income) also easily testable and seen in other sections of the exam. Economic profit is the excess earned over the dollar cost of capital invested.

    • NOPAT = Net operating profit after tax, EBIT (1-tax rate)
    • SWACC  = dollar cost of capital, WACC* Capital
  • Market Value Added (MVA) is the NPV calculation of Economic Profit

Be able to calculate dividends under three dividend policies: Stable, constant dividend payout ratio, and residual.

  • Under the stable dividend policy, a payout is set for long term and the target payout ratio is used to find the expected increase. The expected increase is the increase in earnings times the target ratio times an adjustment factor (the reciprocal of the number of years to adjust the dividend)
  • Under the constant payout ratio policy, the dividend fluctuates with net income and may be volatile.
  • Under the residual policy, dividends = earnings – (capital budget*equity % in capital structure)

SS9- Corporate Finance: Financing and Control
The post-merger EPS is the acquirer’s pre-merger earnings plus the target’s pre-merger earnings divided by the post-merger shares outstanding. Remember that the acquirer may have to issue new shares equal to the target’s market cap divided by the acquirer’s stock price.

The Herfindahl-Hirshman Index is something that comes up frequently but really isn’t too difficult. Just take each firm’s market share times 100 and then squared, then add them all up. Realistic numbers are usually above 500 up to 3,000 so make sure you check your answer.  You’ll need to remember the three levels of concentration and the likelihood of an antitrust challenge (i.e. < 1,000, 1,000- 1,800, >1,800)

You may need to calculate the free cash flows for a target company through NOPLAT. NOPLAT is the unlevered net income plus any change in deferred taxes. FCF = NOPLAT + Noncash charges – changes in net working capital – capex. Don’t forget to discount the FCF to a present value using the appropriate rate.

SS10- Equity Valuation
The weighted average cost of capital is a fairly easy calculation but can cost you points if you rush through it. Don’t forget to use the after tax cost of debt, rate (1-tax rate). It is usually preferred to use the target weights for capital structure rather than the current market value weights when finding WACC.

SS11- Industry and Company Analysis
There are some extremely important and testable formulas in this reading. You should be able to work the dividend discount model solving for any one of the variables in case they ask for the discount rate or the dividend growth rate. Remember, the Gordon growth model is a DDM under the constant growth assumption while the H-model or the multi-stage models assume different growth rates.

Under the Gordon growth, value = (current dividend * (1+growth rate)) divided by the required rate minus growth

The H-model is taking a basic DDM (initial dividend rate divided by rate minus long-term growth) but multiplies in a bonus because of supernormal growth (the difference in rates times half the years plus the long-term growth rate). The second part of the equation is a mathematical attempt at estimating a linear (straight line) decline in growth.

Be able to decompose the return on equity in a DuPont Analysis down to its most basic pieces.

ROE = NI/Sales  * Sales/Total Assets * Total Assets/Shareholders’ Equity

If you forget, just remember that ROE is NI/Equity so all the other variables must cancel out (i.e. sales is denominator in NI/Sales and numerator in Sales/Assets). Remember that these are also net profit margin * asset turnover* leverage.

SS12- Valuation models
Free cash flow is an extremely important measurement and you will need it extensively in the equity section of the exam, especially at level II. It represents the cash available to either equity investors or all capital providers after all working capital and fixed capital needs have been accountable. Basically, it is the extra cash available to owners (of debt or equity) after the company’s future operations have been funded.

Free Cash Flow to the Firm (FCFF) is the cash flow available to all capital providers (debt and equity) and equals:

Net income + Net noncash Charges (depreciation and amortization) – Investment in working capital – Investment in Fixed capital + after tax interest expense

Free Cash Flow to Equity (FCFE) is the cash flow available to common shareholders and equals:

Net income + Net noncash Charges (depreciation and amortization) – Investment in working capital – Investment in Fixed +/- net borrowing

  • Notice that FCFE is FCFF except without adding back interest expense and taking net borrowing into account.
  • Understand how to arrive at FCFE or FCFF with CFO
  • FCFF = CFO + INT (1-t) – invest fixed capital
  • FCFE= CFO – invest fixed capital +/- net borrowing

Be able to understand and calculate price multiples like price/earnings, price/book, price/sales, and price/earnings to growth on a trailing and forward basis.

Enterprise value multiples like EV/EBITDA or EV/Sales are important along with the other price multiples. Remember, Enterprise Value is market value equity + market value preferred + market value debt – cash & investments.

In its most basic form residual income is net income minus an equity charge or just the income remaining after a theoretical cost of the equity used.  Net Income – (equity capital*cost of equity)

You may see the calculation including NOPAT which is Net Income + the after tax interest expense so be ready for RI = NOPAT- (WACC*Total Capital) as well.

The valuation model using residual income and book value can be lengthy but is absolutely necessary to learn. Go through a couple of examples until you are sure you have it down for the test.

We’ll conclude the Level 2 must know formulas on Friday with study session 13-18. Let me know if you have any questions or think I missed an important formula.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

Which formulas are the most important for the CFA Level 2?

There are a ton of formulas you need to know for the Level 2 exam. For me, as with others, it is the most quantitatively intensive test I’ve ever taken.

But do you really need all those formulas, and how do you memorize so much in such a quick time?

In this post and continued through the next two Tuesdays, we’ll look at the most important formulas in the second exam and how to approach the massive amount of material. The usual disclaimer applies, while I have been writing on the exams for quite a while and took them myself, no one knows what will actually show up on the exam. All the curriculum is testable. I can only tell you what I have seen through my own experience and what I have seen on successive versions of the curriculum over the last four years.

We’ll start with a general approach to the formulas then look at each study session to pick out the most important formulas.

Remembering every single calculation from the curriculum is not practical for most candidates and it does seem that the Institute targets some material as more important than others. That said, it is extremely easy to get into the punter’s trap. I call the punter’s trap where you find a tough formula and decide to skip it and focus on easier points instead. Something like punting in football instead of going for the extra yardage. The problem is, once you start doing this it gets easier to do it again and again. Pretty soon, you are skipping a good portion of the curriculum and you are guaranteed some lost points on the exam. Spend the time and get these formulas down.

There’s two things you can do to help get through the tough formulas.

  • First, you need to understand what is conceptually happening in the formula. Trying to understand the myriad of symbols is crazy. If  WACC = (Vd/(Vd +Vce))rd (1-t) + (Vce/(Vd+Vce))rce) doesn’t make you go cross-eyed you are a stronger person than I am. Think about it intuitively and it makes sense. The overall cost of a firm’s funding capital is the cost and proportion of equity and debt. The percentage of each funding type relative to the total is multiplied by its cost. Debt is tax advantaged, so you need the after-tax cost.
  • Secondly, you have to work these formulas through practice and repetition. One of the most popular posts here shows that active learning (engaging the material through practice and conversation) allows you to remember much more than passive learning. The best way to approach tough formulas is to put them on flash cards. Write out a full practice question like those at the end of the chapters. Then work the questions each day. When you are able to do one easily, put it aside so the time necessary each day decreases. You will want to review them all every couple of weeks to make sure you haven’t forgotten any.

We’ll go through each study session to look at the high level important questions but make sure you are doing the end-of-chapter and blue-box questions in the curriculum. If the Institute is taking the time to write out a problem, then they want you to know the formula and you could see it on the exam.

There are no calculations in the first two study sessions, just ethics material but this is extremely important to your overall grade so you may want to review our posts on ethics and standards.

SS2/3 – Quantitative Methods
You need to know how to calculate the sample covariance and correlation coefficient. Learn the basics of the formula but you can do both of these on your calculator so learn how to input the data and you’ll save a lot of time.

You need to know how to calculate a value for a regression model, which is pretty easy by just plugging the numbers into the variables in the formula. The correlation coefficient is just the covariance divided by the standard deviations of each variable. Ryx = COVyx/sysxwith the covariance being the sum of the differences (y- average y)(x – average x) divided by the sample size minus one.

Remember, the slope estimate (b1) is the covariance divided by the variance. What gets most candidates is the various statistics on the ANOVA chart so learn the parts and be able to interpret their meaning.

Predicting the value of a time series or the autoregressive model is similar to the regression model, just plug in the numbers. Be sure you can work a formula with a seasonal lag as well. You may also need to calculate a mean reverting level.

SS4 – Economics
Forex can be tough, especially with the confusion around direct and indirect quotes. You need to be able to calculate the bid-ask spread as well as calculate the profit on a triangular arbitrage. I have included two video explanations to get you started.

A good explanation of Bid and Ask quotes is available on YouTube at:

Cross rates and arbitrage are easily testable and will really test whether you understand forex quotes and calculations. A good explanation of triangular arbitrage is available on YouTube at:

The forward premium or discount on a currency is just the relative difference between the forward and spot price (Fxy – Sxy)/ Sxymultiplied by the annualized time in the contract (12/# of months until settlement)

Interest rate parity is an important concept and the formula is fairly easy. It’s just the relative interest rates (1+rx/1+ry) times the spot price.

SS5 – FRA Inventories and Long-term Assets
You’re required to calculate the effect of inflation or deflation on inventory costs and ratios but I see this as more a conceptual problem. Understand what affect inflation or deflation has on the LIFO or FIFO methodologies and you’ll be fine.

We’ll cover study sessions 6-12 in the post next Tuesday and the remaining sessions in the post after that. We’ll be using the other posts through the next couple of weeks to review strategies for the exams and how to prepare.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

CFA Level 2 Review, Portfolio Management

Study session 18 in the CFA Level 2 curriculum concludes the material with three readings (54-56) in Portfolio Management.

Portfolio Concepts
A lot of the quantitative stuff here you’ve already seen in the quant methods section so be ready to calculate the return and variance on a portfolio. Remember, the portfolio return is just the asset weights times the asset returns while the variance calculation involves standard deviation and correlations.

Understand the theory behind the efficient frontier and how the CAL and CML incorporate into the idea.

  • The capital allocation line (CAL) is a straight line from the risk-free rate to any portfolio in the risk/return area. The optimal portfolio is where the CAL lies on the efficient frontier.
  • The line between the risk-free rate (intercept point) and the optimal portfolio (the tangency of the efficient frontier) is the capital market line (CML). All points on this line are portfolios consisting of different proportions risk-free asset and risky assets. Where the portfolio falls on this line depends on the risk tolerance of the client.

Understand the assumptions used in the CAPM (i.e. optimal portfolios can be built from just expected returns, variances and covariances; identical expectations about returns and variances; ability to borrow and lend at risk-free rate; no trading costs or taxes) and be able to calculate with a historical or adjusted beta.

The material on APT and multifactor models is mostly conceptual so focus on the basic ideas as well as the differences between the two methods. Multi-factor models are basically just a simple regression so don’t get confused by all the terminology.

The Theory of Active Portfolio Management
The reading is almost entirely Treynor Black model with some quick conceptual stuff as an introduction. The Treynor-Black model is a portfolio optimization model that combines market inefficiency with MPT.

Understand the steps in Treynor-Black

1)      Estimate expected return and standard deviation for the passively managed portfolio

2)      Identify limited set of mispriced securities

3)      Determine weights for the mispriced securities

4)      Group securities with non-zero alpha into an active portfolio

5)      Allocate funds between the passive and active portfolio

Understand the use of R2 in Treynor-Black alpha forecasts and analyst accuracy

The Portfolio Management Process
The easiest reading, and possibly the most important, is on the portfolio management process. This material is really the focus of the level III CFA exam but is shown here in a summary version. Learning this material at level II will make next year all that much easier for you.

  • The ‘steps’ in the process (planning, execution, and feedback) are secondary to the other material and fairly obvious anyway. Understanding the pieces within each step will make it intuitive as to where in the process they occur and the overall flow.
  • Understand that the IPS benefits both the client (through a formalized and portable plan) and the advisor (showing fulfillment of duty to client).
  • At the second level, you are really only asked to remember the basic structure of the IPS and what each objective or constraint means. The acronym that always helped me was  R-R-TUTLL. Risk, Return, Taxes, Unique Circumstances, Time Horizon, Legal, Liquidity.
    • Risk tolerance is made up of willingness and ability to tolerate risk. Ability is usually a quantitative concept where a lower proportion of spending to total assets equals higher risk tolerance. Willingness is much more qualitative and comes from the client’s fears and hopes.
    • Return requirement and objective (simplified) is what the client wants to do with their money and what kind of return they need to get there.
    • Taxes is fairly explanatory
    • Liquidity is the spending needs the client needs, within the next year or during retirement
    • Time horizon- the material approaches this in terms of ‘stages’ around life events. Usually something like pre-retirement or pre-college spending and post-retirement.
    • Legal usually doesn’t factor into individual IPS expect with trusts and other legal documents
    • Unique Circumstances is a catch-all not addressed elsewhere, usually something like client prohibitions against investing in vice assets (smoking, alcohol, gambling, etc) or Socially-responsible investing

The tax material is fairly lengthy, but again time spent here will save you next year. Start with the basic formulas and concepts behind the different tax regimes. Pay attention to the concepts under tax loss harvesting or deferral within taxed accounts and the compare/contrast material with retirement accounts.

Wow, we’ve made it through the entire curriculum. Hopefully, you have been able to keep up and have been doing well on practice problems and using other resources. You’re not done just yet. There’s still three weeks left to the exam and they can be the most important three weeks of your preparation. We’ll cover what to expect on test day in Friday’s post and other tips and strategies in subsequent posts all the way up to test day.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

CFA Level 2 Review: Options, Swaps and Rate Derivatives

Study session 17 in the CFA Level 2 curriculum concludes the material on derivatives with four readings (50-53) on options, swaps, and rate derivatives.

Option Markets and Contracts
If you’re familiar with the options markets, the material is pretty basic and will be easy points. For those without prior experience, you’ll need to spend a little more time because it is fairly testable stuff. Understand the difference between European-style and American Options but all the formulas and quant material is based on expiration so there won’t be a difference.

Start with the put-call parity equation and be able to solve for any of the variables; call price, put price or stock price. This will get you through any questions on synthetic positions.

Understand how to create a delta hedge through the number of calls to sell or the total number of shares to purchase. The number of calls to sell equals the number of shares you want to hedge divided by the delta of the option. The total shares to purchase is the number of options you are short times their delta.

You won’t need to do the math for the Black-Scholes Merton equation but you may need to know the assumptions and limitations.

  • Lognormal distribution skewed to the right side but limited to zero on the left side of the distribution
  • Continuous risk-free rate is constant and known
  • Volatility of the underlying asset is constant and known
  • Markets are frictionless (no taxes, transaction costs, or restrictions on short sales)
  • Underlying asset has no cash flows
  • Options valued are European and cannot be exercised early

Know the Greeks and their respective measures. You will need to know how to delta hedge an asset but the rest of the Greeks are just conceptual. Three of the Greeks start with the same letter as the definitional word which is how I remembered them.

  • Delta- sensitivity to price change
  • Gamma- sensitivity to delta change
  • Rho – sensitivity to rate change
  • Theta – sensitivity to time change
  • Vega – sensitivity to volatility

Swap Markets and Contracts

This was probably one of the most difficult readings for me when studying for the Level 2 exam. There are some lengthy and detailed calculations here and you will probably need to spend some time to get them down. I would start with getting the underlying concept first which will help to remember how to put the formulas together. Flash cards work well for drilling the specific equations until you can remember them.

The fixed rate (swap rate) is determined at the contract initiation date and makes the present value of the fixed rate component equal to the present value of the floating rate component. Determining this rate is called “pricing” the swap. The floating rate is reset at the beginning of each settlement period and is based on the short-term rates (LIBOR).

The market value of the swap at any time is equal to the difference between the value of the float-rate side and the value of the fixed-rate side.

A rate swap is an agreement between two parties to exchange fixed for floating rate payments. There is no exchange of principal at initiation. Since currency swaps are for two notional principals, there is usually an exchange at the beginning and end of the swap.

Payer swaptions are the right to enter into a specific swap as the fixed rate payer while receiver swaptions are the right to enter into a swap as the fixed rate receiver.

Interest Rate Derivative Instruments
Caps or ceilings are agreements where one party pays another the when a reference rate exceeds a contracted point. Basically, the buyer needs to limit their risk that rates will increase and enters into a call option on rates (possibly someone paying on floating-rate debt).

Conversely, Floors are agreements where one party pays another when a reference rate drops below a contracted point. A floor is similar to a put option on rates. The calculations for caps and floors are not too difficult, just tedious because you often need to do calculations for multiple periods. Just remember, the payoff is either (0) where the market rate is higher than the floor or lower than the ceiling, or the payoff is the difference between the market rate and the contract rate times the notational and the time fraction (i.e. 90/360).

Credit Derivatives: An Overview
Like the title says, this is really just an overview and there isn’t too much detail. Make sure you get the concepts along with the terms.

Credit default swaps transfer the default risk of an asset to another party. The protection buyer makes a fixed periodic payment to the seller during the term. If the default ‘event’ occurs then the seller pays the buyer according to the contract. Note- this involves counterparty risk that the seller can deliver.

Defalt triggers on CDS instruments can be a number of events including; failure to make a debt payment, bankruptcy, restructuring, moratoriums, or any technical defaults. The settlement of the CDS may be in delivery or a cash settlement.

Understand the various participants in the CDS market and why they might need protection.

Study session 18 in the CFA Level 2 curriculum covers three readings in portfolio management.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

CFA Level 2 Review, Forwards and Futures

Study session 16 in the CFA Level 2 curriculum starts the material on derivatives with two readings (48-49) on forwards and futures. The topic is worth between 5% to 15% on both the Level 2 and Level 3 exams so you will definitely see at least one item set and possibly more.

Forward Markets and Contracts
The forward price is based off of a no-arbitrage assumption that you shouldn’t be able to earn a riskless return above the risk-free rate. The price is a function of the spot price, the risk-free rate and the term of the contract = S0*(1+Rrf)T

You need to understand this simple equation to be able to calculate a cash and carry arbitrage, which often finds its way onto the exams.  This is where you borrow at the risk free rate, buy the bond and simultaneously short/long the forward contract to profit on the difference.

Example: You calculate the no arbitrage price on a four-month contract of $813.10 with a risk-free rate of 5% but the forward is priced in the market at $850. The cash and carry is borrow $800 at the risk-free and buy the bond while shorting the forward contract. At the settlement date, the short forward is satisfied by delivering the bond for a payment of $850 and used to repay the $800 loan. The total amount to repay the loan over the four month term is $800*(1.05).333 = $813.10 with an arbitrage profit of $850 – $813.10 or $36.89 (try several practice problems for this until you can easily do it for under- or over-priced forwards)

Once you have the basic formula down and can do a cash/carry example, the rest of the iterations on forward pricing are fairly easy. The forward rate agreement (FRA) is a little harder, but it is another highly testable item and you need to practice it until you know it. Remember to use 360 for the annual term in the denominator.

Futures Markets and Contracts
Make sure you understand the differences between futures and forward markets and products. Futures are marked to market, traded on organized exchanges, standardized, involve a third-party clearinghouse, and are regulated. Forwards are between private parties, not marked to market, customized and not regulated. Understand how this affects counter-party risk, liquidity, price and margin.

The futures price is also built on the same no-arb assumption so be ready to calculate it and work a cash/carry example.

Backwardation and contango are two important terms on which the curriculum has focused. Backwardation is where the futures price is less than the spot while the spot is less than the future price in Contango. Understand the basics of how these two phenomenon affect market participants for futures (growers and speculators).

Study session 17 in the CFA Level 2 curriculum concludes the material on derivatives with four readings on options, swaps, and rate derivatives.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

CFA Level 2 Review, Structured Securities

Study session 15 in the CFA Level 2 curriculum concludes the fixed income material with three readings (45-47) on structured securities. As it is with much of the topic areas in the Level 2 curriculum, the formulas can get pretty intense but you need to spend some time and master them. The topic area is worth about 10% of your exam score and another 15% in the Level 3 exam.

 Mortgage-Backed Bonds
The reading starts out pretty basic with a glossary of MBS terms and differences between types of structure. Be able to calculate the mortgage payment, an easy task on the PV function of your calculator.

The two types of prepayment risk are important and you should know the difference between them. Contraction risk is that a security’s life will decrease when rates come down and borrowers prepay their loan. This means the investor will need to reinvest proceeds at a lower rate. Extension risk, that the security’s life will increase, is when rates increase and prepayments decrease. The price of the security will decline and the investor will be stuck in the lower rate longer.

Be able to calculate the single monthly mortality (SMM) and the conditional prepayment rate (CPR) assuming a PSA. The two formulas may seem inconsequential but they are probably the most easily testable part of the reading which is largely conceptual.

SMM = prepayment in month i/(beginning mortgage balance for month i – scheduled principal pmt month i)
CPR = 1- (1-SMM)12

The rest of the reading is fairly conceptual. Understand the tranche structure of CMO and the different classes of stripped MBS.

Asset-Backed Bonds
Understand the basic process of securitization and the parties involved. Types of credit enhancements is fairly testable, as much of the list material is.

External enhancements like a third-party guarantee, letter of credit or corporate guarantee expose the investor to third-party risk. Internal enhancements like reserve funds, excess spreads, overcollateralization, and senior-subordinate structures do not have the third-party risk.

The structure is similar for most of these securities, the differences in prepayment risk is probably the most important area. Credit cards and mobile homes do not have prepayment risk. Student loan prepayments are not sensitive to rates.

Know the concepts and structure for CDOs. There is a some quantitative material around an arbitrage transaction that you should do a few practice problems to understand but I’m not sure it is as testable as the other formulas in the topic.

Valuing Mortgage and Asset-Backed Securities
Understand the three assumptions (prepayment rate, reinvested at yield, held to maturity) of cash flow yield and be able to calculate the bond equivalent yield, BEY = 2((1+im)6 – 1)

As is the case throughout the curriculum, pay attention to the limitations on each yield measure (usually based around the assumptions).

Know the basic idea behind the five steps to valuation using Monte Carlo simulation:

  • simulate interest rate      path and cash flow using rates, volatility, and spread assumptions;
  • calculate the PV of cash      flows along 1,000 paths;
  • calculate theoretical      value of MBS as the average PV along all paths;
  • calculate OAS as the      spread that makes PV equal to market price;
  • calculate the option cost      as the zero-volatility spread minus the OAS

Duration is probably the most testable material in the reading, especially since you will need it in other topics. The formula may look intimidating at first but it is pretty intuitive. The price sensitivity to changes in rates is the (value at the lower rate minus value at the higher rate) divided by( twice the initial price times the change in rates)

Understand the different types of duration methods (cash flow, effective duration, coupon curve, empirical duration) and their limitations. The major criticism of cash flow duration is that it is based on the assumption of a single prepayment rate over the life of the security.

Study session 16 in the CFA Level 2 curriculum starts the material on derivatives with two readings on forwards and futures.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

CFA Level 2 Review, Fixed Income

Study session 14 in the CFA Level 2 curriculum begins the material on fixed income with three readings (42-44) on valuation concepts. The material is not as recognizable for many candidates as the stuff on equity investments and can get tough at times. The first reading is fairly basic and secondary to the more practical information in the second reading. The topic is worth 10% of your Level 2 exam and you’ll need the concepts for Fixed Income in the next exam.

Fundamentals of Credit Analysis

The reading is like a 101 on credit analysis and good for your general knowledge of the industry. There are a few important concepts but they are all overall general concepts.

Understand the forms of credit risk:

  • Spread risk is the loss of value from an increase in yield spread over other bonds due to the perceived increase in default risk of the issuer, notice it is from the perception of risk but not necessarily an actual downgrade
  • Downgrade risk is the loss when an issuer is downgraded by an agency due to creditworthiness
  • Market liquidity risk is the loss due to lack of sufficient participation to buy/sell the bonds in the quantity desired

Understand the difference between equity and credit analysis, and the four Cs of Credit

  • Capacity is the ability of the borrower to meet debt obligations
  • Collateral is the quality and value of the assets supporting the debt
  • Covenants are the terms and conditions in a bond agreement
  • Character is the quality of management and willingness to satisfy debt obligations

The different ratios and ratio analysis in the reading are extremely important but reviewed in other sections. You can address them here or in the other sections, but you must know them.

Know the difference between affirmative covenants (obligations the company must hold like paying interest, taxes and submitting audited statements) and negative covenants (limitations on the company like debt ratios and the amount of cash that can be paid out to equity holders).

Term Structure and Volatility of Interest Rates

Know the basis and implications behind the shapes of the yield curve (normal, flat, inverted, and humped). Understand the types of yield curve shifts (parallel and non-parallel) and what it means for relative value of bonds.

The curriculum spends a lot of time explaining how to construct the theoretical spot rate curve for treasuries. Other than bootstrapping, it is still fairly conceptual so understand the basis behind each methodology (coupon strips, on-the-run treasuries, on-the-run plus select off-the-run, all treasury coupons and bills) as well as advantages or limitations.

Bootstrapping is a methodology that can be used to construct the spot curve when using securities with different maturities. The defined process is easily testable so put an example on a flashcard and drill it.

Example: 6-month U.S. Treasury bill has an annualized yield of 5% and the 1-year Treasury STRIP has an annualized yield of 4.5%. The yields are spot rates since these are discount securities. Assume that the 1.5 year Treasury is priced at $98 and its coupon rate is 5% ($2.5 every six months).

The 1.5-year spot rate is:
Price = $2.5/ (1+ (5%/2)) + $2.5/ (1/ 4.5%/2))2 + $102.5/(1+(18month spot /2))3
18-month spot rate = 6.464%

The four theories of the term structure of rates are also fairly testable but you really only need to know the basics.

1)      Pure expectations says that forward rates represent expected future spot rates and are not based on other systematic factors. It predicts that the expected spot rate in one year is equal to the implied 1-year forward, implying that expectations are unbiased and the shape of the yield curve depends on expectations.

2)      Liquidity preference states that long-term rates not only reflect expectations but also include a premium for investing in the long-term bonds, a liquidity premium. Rates are biased as holding long-term maturity requires the premium and that a yield curve may have any shape because the size of the liquidity premium is positively related to investor risk aversion.

3)      Preferred habitat states that rates are set by expectations  and a risk premium to compensate investors for buying bonds outside their “preferred” maturity.

4)      Market segmentation states that the slope of the curve depends on supply and demand conditions in the long and short-term markets. An upward-sloping curve indicates that there is less demand for short-term relative to long-term while a downward sloping curve would imply the opposite.

The quant material used to measure curve risk (rate duration, effective duration, and key rate duration) is extremely important and you will need it again in the third exam. Learn it now and save yourself the time next year.

Valuing Bonds with Embedded Options

The reading starts out fairly conceptual and easy with the interpretation of different spread measures. Understand the main differences between nominal, zero volatility, and option-adjusted spread.

The rest of the reading gets pretty intense with different methodologies for valuation of bonds with options. If nothing else, make sure you understand the concepts behind all the methods and the detail for constructing a binomial interest rate tree.

1)      Given the coupon rate and maturity, use the yield on the current 1-year on-the-run issue for today’s rate.

2)      Assume the level of rate volatility

3)      Given the coupon rate and market value of the 2-year on-the-run issue, select a value of the lower rate and compute the upper rate. R1,u= r1,l * e2volatility

R1,u is the upper rate (1 reflects the interest rate starting in year 1 and u reflects the higher of the two rates in year 1)
Volatility is the assumed volatility of the 1-period rate
e is the natural antilogarithm, 2.71828

4)      Compute the bond’s value one year from now using the interest rate tree

5)      If the value calculated using the model is greater than the market price, use the higher rate of r1,l and recomputed r1,u and then calculate the new value of the on-the-run issue using new rates. If the value is too low, decrease the interest rates in the tree.

6)      The five steps are repeated with a different value for the lower rate until the value estimated by the model is equal to the market price.

It’s a tough exercise to work through but often shows up on the exam so you need to get an understanding of it.  

Study session 15 in the CFA Level 2 curriculum concludes the fixed income material with three readings on structured securities.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

CFA Level 2 Review, Alternative Investments

Study session 13 in the CFA Level 2 curriculum includes four readings (38-39) on alternative investments. The material is quite a bit more detailed and quantitatively focused than that seen in the first exam and worth between 5% and 15% of your total exam score. Most of the readings are fairly conceptual with only some basic valuation calculations.  

Private Real Estate Investments
Understand the forms of investment (direct, lending, and public securities) and how they differ. Understand the basics behind REITs and how they differ from normal stocks (tax advantaged structure).

The characteristics of the different ‘alternative’ investments are important throughout the readings. Understand that real estate is not homogeneous (each one differs in size, location, age, quality, etc.), are indivisible and may be prohibitively expensive for smaller investors, are management intensive, subject to depreciation, and have high transaction costs.

Understand the basics behind the different property types, i.e. residential, office, retail, industrial and how they differ. Pay attention to the income approach to valuation and be able to calculate NOI and capitalization rate. Understand that the cap rate is positively related to the discount rate and interest rates, but negatively related to the growth rate.

Publicly Traded Real Estate Securities
Here you will need to get more detail on REITs, the different types,  advantages and disadvantages to privately held real estate. REIT structure (upREITs versus DownREITs) is of secondary importance to basic investment characteristics.

Understand the basic economic drivers and factors for the group and each property type. The Institute does not expect you to become a REIT analyst or Donald Trump from the curriculum. Focus on the basics and don’t get bogged down in detail. Look for advantages/limitations as well as list material.

Pay attention to the NAV approach to valuation.

Pro forma cash NOI = NOI minus non-cash rents plus adjustments for impact of acquisitions
Estimated future expected cash NOI = pro forma NOI plus expected growth in NOI
Est. gross asset value =  estimated value of operating real estate plus BV of cash plus book value of land plus BV of receivables plus BV of prepaid and other assets
Net asset value = estimated gross asset value minus total debt minus other liabilities
NAVPS = NAV divided by shares outstanding

Understand that normal price multiples (P/E) are not appropriate for REITs and know the basic idea behind the FFO multiples.

Private Equity Valuation
Understand the differences between private equity and public equity and the various forms of PE (LBO and VC).

Beyond the vocabulary and general concepts, the NPV method of valuation is fairly testable. To be honest, this is one of the formulas/calculations that I skimmed when I was taking the test. Being that the entire topic area is worth about 10% of the exam and this PE valuation is such a small part of the topic, I didn’t really want to commit the time to get the lengthy process (especially when multiple rounds of financing are used). Unless it comes easily to you or you want to go into PE, I would focus on concepts and vocabulary.

Investing in Hedge Funds: A Survey
The differences between Hedge Funds and other investments is most important here, including fee structure, lock-up periods, and regulation. Understand the basic difference between the types of strategies as well as performance biases.

Self selection bias arises because losing funds simply do not report to a database, skewing average returns upwards.
Survivorship bias occurs because managers with poor performances drop out of the business and the results are removed from databases, overstating average returns.

Study session 14 in the CFA Level 2 curriculum begins the material on fixed income and includes some tough detail on term structure and valuation. Make sure you plan to spend some time on practice problems.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA