Though bonds as an investment class don’t generate the highest returns, they have their own appeal. They offer portfolio diversification, generate steady returns even in the face of a highly volatile investment environment, provide tax advantages and more.
If you don't know what bank bonds are and want to learn how to start investing in them, it’s important to know at least the basics of bond investing. Gaining insight on bonds is the first step toward a robust bond-investing education.
What Are Bonds?
Bonds are fixed-income securities which provide investors with fixed periodic payments and the eventual return of principal at the end of the tenure of the security.
A bond is a loan advanced by the bond purchaser to the bond issuer, and is a debt instrument that functions like an IOU. In other words, a bank bond is an agreement signed between a bond issuer and the investor, specifying the fixed amount the issuer is obligated to pay at specified intervals.
Type of Bonds
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) lists the following types of bonds in its website:
U.S. Treasury Securities
These are issued by the federal government, and with the U.S. government backing them with its “full faith and credit,” these are considered the safest bond investment option. Treasury securities can be a treasury bill (maturity period of four weeks, 13 weeks, 26 weeks or 52 weeks), treasury notes (maturity period of two, three, five, seven and ten years) and treasury bonds (maturity period of 30 years).
U.S. Savings Bonds
These are also issued by the government and backed by the “full faith and credit” guarantee, the difference being they can be purchased for as low an investment as $25 and they cannot be bought or sold in a secondary market.
Mortgage-Backed Securities, or MBS
These bonds are secured by home and real estate loans. Banks offering mortgage loans pool loans with similar characteristics from among these and sell them to a federal government agency or a government-sponsored enterprise such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or a financial institution. These agencies/institutions in turn issue MBS, with the pooled loans serving as collateral for the MBS.
These bonds are issued by corporations to raise finances for various end uses such as general corporate purposes, mergers and acquisitions, capital expenditures, etc.
These are issued by states, cities, counties and other government entities to raise money for building infrastructure or financing other public projects.
These are issued by foreign governments or companies.
As is always the case, with higher risks come higher returns. Bonds, safer bets relative to equities, have mostly underperformed equities. One area where bonds score over equities is the consistency of returns.
Over a 10-year period ending Sept. 30, 2014, U.S. equities generated an average annual return of 8.11%. This compares to the 4.62% average annual return generated by bonds in the same period. However, there are turbulent periods such as post-Dotcom Bubble burst, when bonds out performed equities.
Bond Terms to Know
Here are a few terms you'll come across most often. Understanding the terms used to describe bank bonds and how they function helps you scan the market for quality investment opportunities.
The face value (also known as "par value") of a bond is the price of the bond when it is first issued; the principal amount or the value at which it is redeemed at maturity. Usually, bonds are issued at face value in multiples of $1,000.
Also known as coupon rate or nominal interest rate, it is the interest rate stated on the bond. It is the fixed annual interest paid by the bond issuer to the bond holder. Coupon interest payment is determined as a percentage of the bond’s face value, and is a dollar amount. Therefore, it is fixed over time.
The end of a bond’s term is called the maturity date. The maturity date determines the breadth and profitability of your investment. For example, a long-term bank bond that matures several years from now pays out over that entire period. A short-term bond might pay well, but it is far less consistent because it matures so quickly.
If the price of a bond is above its par value, the difference between the bond price and the par value is called the premium. In this case, the bond yield will be less than its stated coupon rate.
Alternatively, if a bond is trading below its par value, the deficit of the bond price over the par value is called the discount.
The price of a bond is equal to the present value of future interest payments, plus the present value of the face value (returnable at maturity) based on the prevailing market interest rate.
Yield of a bond at a particular time is the bond interest rate expressed as a percentage of the prevailing price at that time. It is the rate of return one gets by investing in a bond. In accounting terms, yield is the present value of the cash flows from the bond, which is equal to the principal plus all remaining coupons.
Yield to maturity
It is the rate of return an investor in bond will earn on purchasing it at the current market price and holding it until maturity.
It is a clause or a provision on a bond, which allows the bond issuer to repurchase the bond before the maturity period.
A clause that states that the bond can be sold back to the issuer at a stipulated price before the maturity of the bond, with the price usually set at 100 percent of the face value. Usually multiple put periods are specified for a put bond. This offers an extra degree of protection to bond buyers, given that it establishes a floor price for the bond.
Savings bond is a term that is often interchanged with treasury or government bond. These assets pay interest after they mature to provide the investor with a profit.
Paper Savings Bond
Paper savings bonds are physical bonds issued by banks or other institutions that will pay principal and interest when they mature. Thus, they must be cashed in person with the issuing insitution.
Government (or treasury) bonds are assets purchased by investors that will pay principal and interest upon their maturation.
TreasuryDirect is the only place where investors may purchase and redeem U.S. Savings Bonds electronically.
Debt securities are assets you purchase which are, in essence, a loan between the issuer and the investor. Generally, the principal amount is repaid with interest on the maturity date.
Treasury bills are sold to consumers for terms of 4 to 52 weeks. The treasury bill will pay interest when it matures.
The U.S. Treasury yield curve is an historic chart that explains the yields provided by government bonds over a long period of time, up to 30 years.
Fixed Income Security
A fixed income security is one that gives you steady income for a predictable period of time. As such, bonds are generally considered fixed income securities and are favored by many investors.
How to Invest in Bonds: An Example
Let us assume company XYZ issues a 10-year dollar bond with face value of $10,000 for a fixed coupon rate of 5 percent. An investor is eligible to receive $500 each year or $250 every six months. In the above example, the bond parameters are as follows:
- Par value of the bond - $10,000
- Coupon rate - 5%
- Coupon interest - $500/year or $250 every six months
- Duration of the bond - 10 years
When the purchase price of a bond is equal to the par value, its coupon rate is equal to the yield-to-maturity. However, let’s assume an investor buys the same bond on the secondary market for $9,000. Its yield would change to 5.56% (coupon amount/bond price *100.) If the bond is sold at a premium on the secondary market at $11,000, the yield would be 4.55%.
Thus, we see that the bond price and bond yield share an inverse relationship, which is make sense since the mathematical yield equals coupon/bond price * 100. With the coupon remaining the same, any increase in bond price will lead to a decline in yield and vice-versa. This can help you calculate a rough estimate of how your bond investment might mature over time.
Factors Affecting Bond Price
When bonds are traded in the secondary market, the price of the bond is influenced by the demand and supply of the bond. The other factors that affect the price are:
Bond price and interest rate share an inverse relationship. Interest rate in this case means the benchmark interest rate. Taking the same example we considered earlier and the rate on short term treasury security as the benchmark interest rate is how the relation can be explained.
If the treasury rate is the same 5%, both the treasury and company XYZ’s bond will offer the same return of $500 per year. Let us assume, due to deteriorating fundamentals, the interest rate on the treasury falls to 3%, so it fetches you $300 compared to the $500 XYZ’s bond yields.
The higher yield of XYZ’s bond makes it an attractive option, sending its price higher. The price of the bond rises until its return becomes equal to the reduced returns from the treasury. Conversely, when the treasury rate rises to 7%, it would fetch you $700.
Given the lower returns from company XYZ’s bond, demand for it dwindles, sending its price lower. The price of the corporate bond drops till its yield becomes equal to the enhanced yield of the treasury.
Bond prices also share an inverse relationship with inflation. In an inflationary environment, the future returns you earn from a bond will be worth less in today’s dollar. This is because inflation erodes the purchasing power of the returns you will earn on your investment.
Credit Rating of the Bond
The credit rating assigned to a bond by a rating agency indicates the ability of a bond issuer to pay the periodic interest payments and repay the principal amount at the time of maturity. A higher credit rating will lead to a higher bond price.
As explained earlier, bond prices and bond yield share an inverse relation.
Bond prices shift as current events alter investor sentiment and interest rates. Bonds issued by foreign banks may be affected by news impacting that country or region. For example, bonds issued by a French bank or the French government are highly-susceptible to incidents that impact France, the EU or its territories.
Your Options When Investing in Bonds
- Individual bonds: These include bonds from sources such as government organization, corporations, municipals and more.
- Bond funds: These are mutual funds invested primarily in bonds and other debt instruments. Units in the bond funds can be sold any time for the current net asset value.
- Bond ETFs: These are hybrid instruments because they track a bond index in an attempt to replicate its return but they trade on a stock exchange, giving it a stock-like property. Examples are bond ETFs are iShare Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF, Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF, iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF.
Pros of Investing in Bonds
- Bonds are a safe-haven investment option. In the eventuality of the company going bankrupt, bondholders have preference over shareholders in recovering the investment made.
- Bonds yield steady returns, unlike stocks, which can go from generating staggering returns to wiping away all of your investment dollars. Bonds, especially the ones guaranteed by the government, fetch steady returns, and preserve your principal investment.
Cons of Investing in Bonds
- Bonds generate less returns than other, riskier options such as equities.
- Investing in bonds exposes an investor to interest rate risk. As seen earlier, when interest rate falls, investors will flock to the bonds yielding higher interest rate, sending their prices higher.
- Inflation also serves as a risk to bond investor, as higher inflation has the potential to wipe away the returns from a bond.
- Credit risk is also associated with certain bonds not guaranteed by “full faith and credit” of the government are at the mercy of the bond issuer’s creditworthiness.
Best Brokers for Bond Investing
Take a look at one of our favorite bond brokers.
Become a Bondholder for Secure Returns
To reap the advantages as well as mitigate the shortcomings of bond investing, it’s important to consider a portfolio approach rather than considering bond investing as a solo investment option.
Zero in on the right stock-bond-cash mix based on your investment objective and time horizon, and you should be good to go. In these current economic times, as interest rates go up due to the Fed’s monetary policy normalization, bond investing looks a bit risky. Bonds issued in the future may come with better rates, making your investment in today’s bond less appealing.
That said, there’s no denying that bonds’ presence stabilize portfolios, which makes it them an appealing investment option at any time.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a bond in simple terms?
A bond is a type of loan. When you purchase a bond, you are lending money to the issuer – usually a company or government – and they promise to pay you back with interest. The issuer uses this money to finance various projects, such as building a new factory or school. Bondholders receive interest payments for as long as they hold the bond, up until its maturity date when it must be repaid.
Do bonds make money?
Bonds are debt securities that enable investors to loan money to corporations, governments, or other entities in exchange for periodic interest payments and the eventual repayment of the principal. As a result, bonds can be a reliable source of income for investors. Whether bonds make money or not depends largely on the type of bond purchased and the current market conditions.
How much does a 20 year bond cost?
The cost of a 20 year bond will depend on the coupon rate, or interest rate, associated with the bond. The coupon rate is determined by the bond issuer and is typically expressed as an annual percentage yield (APY). Generally speaking, the higher the APY, the more expensive the bond will be. For example, if a 20 year bond has a 5% APY, it will cost more than a 20 year bond with a 3% APY.