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Tag: Bonds

Questions You Were Afraid to Ask #9

In our last writing, we broke down some of the most common terms associated with bonds and what they mean.  But there was one term we left unexplained – and often, it’s the one you hear the most about in the media.  We’re referring to a bond’s yield.  So, without further ado, let’s answer:

Questions You Were Afraid to Ask #9:
What are bond yields and why do they matter?

Super-quick refresher on four of the terms we defined last time, because they’ll play a role here, too:

Par Value: This is the amount that must be returned to the investor when the bond matures – essentially, the original investor’s principal. (Many bonds are issued at a par value of $1,000.)

Coupon Rate: This is the bond’s interest rate, paid by the issuer at specific intervals. For instance, let’s say you owned a $1,000 bond with a 10% annual coupon rate. The issuer would then pay you $100 in interest each year until maturity.  

Maturity: This is the amount of time until the bond is due to be repaid. A 10-year Treasury bond, for instance, matures 10 years from the date it was issued.

Price: This is the amount for which the bond is traded in the secondary market. Sometimes, bonds trade at their par value, but they don’t have to. For instance, imagine Fred bought a bond from the issuer for $1000, but trades it to Fran for only $950. The bond’s par value is still $1000.  The price, though, is $950, and is said to be traded at a discount. On the other hand, if Fred trades it for $1,050, then Fran would be buying it at a premium.  And if Fran buys it for the same price that Fred originally paid – $1000 – she would be buying it at par.   

Financial terminology can be slippery and hard to remember.  (It’s like mental soap.)  But keeping all these terms in mind, the definition of a bond’s yield is this: The return – or amount – an investor expects to gain until the bond matures. 

Simple, right?  Now we can wrap this up and go about our day.

Except, not quite.  While that may be the definition, the actual ramifications of yield go a bit deeper.  To understand this, we first need to understand the most basic way yield is calculated. 

A bond’s current yield can be found by dividing the bond’s annual interest rate payment (coupon rate) by its price.  For example, imagine Fran buys a bond with a 10% coupon rate for its original $1000 price.  The bond’s yield would be 10%, too. 

Now imagine that Frank buys that same bond from Fran a year later – but for $75 more. Since the bond is being traded for more than its par value – in this case, $1,075 – the yield would go down to 9.3%. After all, if Frank pays more than Fran for the same level of interest rate, he’s getting a lower return on his investment than Fran did, who paid less. However, if the bond trades for less than par – say, $975 – then the yield goes up to 10.25%. 

In other words, yields and bond prices are inversely related.  If the price of a bond goes up, its yield will go down. If the price goes down, the yield goes up.  Make sense?    

Essentially, by comparing the current yield of different bonds, you can see which bonds are expected to give more or less of a return on your investment. The higher the yield, the better the expected return. 

Now, that doesn’t mean an investor should just look for bonds with the highest yields and call it a day. That’s because high-yield bonds tend to come with more risk than low-yield bonds do. As we covered previously, issuers with lower credit ratings will often pay higher interest rates, since there is some risk they won’t be able to repay the principal by the time the bond matures. Investors must always balance risk versus reward when choosing where to put their money, and that holds true for bonds, too.

So, that’s yield in a nutshell. Now, you may be wondering, “Why do I hear so much about bond yields in the media?” Well, many analysts and economists use yields to project which direction interest rates will move in the future…and by extension, the overall economy. You see, when interest rates are expected to rise, bond prices tend to go down.  (That’s because an existing bond’s coupon rate will no longer be as attractive as that of a new bond, meaning the owner would need to sell the bond at a discount.) And when interest rates are expected to fall, bond prices rise. For that reason, when yields rise across the entire bond market, analysts often see it as a signal that interest rates may rise soon, too. (Furthermore, when the yield on short-term bonds rises above that of long-term bonds, this can indicate that investors are concerned about a possible recession.)         

Now, here’s the truly important thing:

We covered a lot of concepts in a very short amount of time.  Hopefully, it all made sense.  To be honest, we’re just barely scratching the surface of this topic – but this is precisely why we started writing this series on “Questions You Were Afraid to Ask.” 

The world of investing can be a complicated one.  Sometimes, it’s more complicated than it needs to be.  You will often see terms like “yield” thrown about in the media without any explanation or context. Many investors, even experienced ones, can find all this lingo to be confusing, even intimidating.  That’s not how investing should be! You don’t need a PhD to understand this stuff.  You just need to break it down and translate it into plain English.  Everyone, regardless of their level of education or experience, has the right to invest with confidence in their own future.  (Furthermore, smart investors don’t actually need to think about terms like “yield-to-worst” that much.  Far more important is understanding what you want to accomplish, and what steps you need to take to get there.

Next time, we’re going to move away from bonds and answer some questions many investors have regarding modern investing trends.  In the meantime, have a great day!

Questions You Were Afraid to Ask #3

A few months ago, we started a new series of posts called “Questions You Were Afraid to Ask.”  Each month, we look at a common question that many investors – especially new investors – have but feel uncomfortable asking.  Because when it comes to your finances, there’s no such thing as a bad question!

In our last post, we looked at why some stock market indices – like the Dow – are valued much higher than, say, the S&P 500.  But what is a stock, exactly?  How does it compare to other kinds of investments?  Even folks with a lot saved for retirement aren’t always sure.  You see, many Americans build wealth and save for retirement through their employers.  Maybe they take advantage of a company 401(k) or are awarded company stock as part of their compensation.  Either way, they don’t spend much time thinkingabout their investment options, because it’s simply not required in order to start investing. 

As a result, many Americans may have heard of different investment types – or asset classes, as they are also known – without truly knowing how they differ, or what the pros and cons of each type are.  So, over the following three months, we’ll break down some of the most important investment types, starting with the two most well-known.  Without further ado, let’s dive into:   

Questions You Were Afraid to Ask #3:
What’s better, stocks or bonds?

When you purchase a bond, you are essentially loaning a company, government, or organization money.  When you buy stock, you are purchasing partial ownership in a company.  For this reason, stocks are equity investments while bonds are debt investments.  Before we answer Question #3, let’s examine how each type works.   

How Stocks Work

When you buy a company’s stock, you buy a share in that company – and the more shares you buy, the more of the company you own.  Generally speaking, stocks can be held for as short or long a time as you wish, but many experts recommend holding onto your shares for longer-term if you anticipate their value will rise over time. 

For example, let’s say ACME Corporation – which makes roadrunner traps – sells their stock for $50 per share.  You invest $5000 into the company, which means you now own 100 shares.  Now, fast forward five years.  ACME’s business has grown, investors like what they see, which consequently puts their stock in higher demand.  As a result, the stock price is now $75 per share.  Because you own equity in the company, you benefit from its growth, too – and your investment is now worth $2,500 more, for a total of $7,500.    

The Pros and Cons of Investing in Stocks

Every investment has its strengths and weaknesses, and stocks are no exception. The single biggest benefit to investing in stocks is that, historically, they outperform most types of investments over the long term. Because stocks represent partial ownership in a business, finding a strong company that performs well over the course of years and decades can be a powerful way to save for the future. Additionally, stocks are a fairly liquid investment. That means it can potentially be easier to both buy and sell them whenever you need cash.  Many other investment types, like bonds, can be more difficult or costly to sell, in some cases locking you in for the long term.

But these pros are just one side of a double-edged sword. You see, with the possibility of a higher return comes added risk. While the stock market has historically risen over the long-term, individual stock prices can be extremely volatile, climbing and falling daily, sometimes dramatically. For example, if a company underperforms relative to its expectations, the stock price can go down. Sometimes, companies can even fail altogether, and it’s possible for investors to lose everything they put in. As the saying goes, risk nothing, gain nothing — but it’s equally true that if you risk too much, you can leave with less.

Furthermore, to actually realize any gains you’ve made (or cash out a potential increase in value), you must sell your stock, which can trigger a significant tax bill. 

How Bonds Work

Bonds potentially rise in value and might be sold for a profit, but generally speaking, that’s not what most investors are looking for.  Instead, bondholders are hoping something a bit more predictable: Fixed income in the form of regular interest payments. 

As previously mentioned, bonds are a loan from you to a company or government.  That loan might last days or years – sometimes even up to 100 years – but when the bond matures, the company pays you back your initial investment.  In the meantime, the company typically pays you regular interest, just like you would when you take out a loan.  Depending on the type of bond you buy, these payments can be annual, quarterly, or monthly.  Interest payments are why investors often look to bonds as a source of income.

The Pros and Cons of Bonds

Income isn’t the only “pro” when it comes to bonds.  Bonds tend to be less volatile than stocks.  Also, since the company that issued the bond is technically in your debt, you would be among the first in line to get at least some of your money back even if the company enters bankruptcy.  That’s not the case with stocks. 

But just because bonds are less volatile doesn’t mean they’re risk-free.  Bonds may rise or fall in face value as interest rates change.  Face value is typically calculated by seeing what others would likely be willing to pay to take over that debt from you. So, for example, if you bought a bond in Year 1 only to see interest rates go up in Year 2, the value of your bond will likely fall.  That’s because you are missing out on the higher interest rate payments you would have had if you bought the bond in Year 2 instead.  That’s important, because if you wanted to sell your bond before it reached maturity, you would probably have to settle for a lower price than what you initially paid.         

Stocks and Bonds Together

As you can see, stocks and bonds each have different advantages and disadvantages.  That’s why neither is “better” than the other.  It’s also why, for many investors, the real answer is, “Why not both?”   

Far from being competitive, stocks and bonds are actually considered complementary.  That’s because each brings things to the table the other doesn’t.  Furthermore, stocks and bonds are what’s known as non-correlated assets.  That means they don’t necessarily move in tandem.  For example, say the stock market goes down.  Just because stocks are down doesn’t mean bond values will fall, too. In fact, it’s possible they go up!  And of course, the inverse is also true. 

(Understand that this kind of non-correlated movement is not guaranteed.  The point is that allocating a portion of your portfolio to both stocks and bonds is a good way of not keeping all your eggs in one basket.) 

Obviously we could go on for pages and pages on the ins and outs of stocks and bonds.  This post just scratches the surface.  But hopefully it gives you a better idea about how these two important asset classes work and why people should consider both when it comes to investing for the future. 

Of course, choosing which stocks and bonds to buy is an entirely different subject…and it’s why next month, we’ll break down how some investors get around this problem by putting their money in funds.    

In the meantime, have a great month!