What do we do about Bonds…

 

‘You don’t need bonds, until you need them!’

Anon

Challenging times

I sat in our Investment Committee meeting for most of yesterday morning and amongst many things we discussed the current thoughts on Bonds (these include Government Gilts and Corporate bonds). You may feel I am a glutton for punishment on a Monday morning but really …. it was quite interesting!

In response to the very low yield on fixed interest investments (bonds), some investors have been tempted to chase higher yielding bonds, in an attempt to squeeze some return out of what feels like an unproductive portfolio allocation.  This is, unfortunately, an accident waiting to happen.  The phrase ‘picking up pennies in front of a steamroller’ comes to mind.

Others are asking whether they should be holding cash as bond yields are ‘inevitably’ going to rise, denting bond returns, at least in the short term.  Neither, approach according to the research conducted by Albion Consulting who provide the research which helps build our investment portfolios for clients, makes much sense.

We should be looking forward to yield rises

At some point in the future, yields (income) are likely to rise back to higher levels.  The problem is that no-one knows when, how quickly and with what magnitude it will happen.  Investors should be looking forward to yield rises, because in the future their bonds will be delivering them with a higher income, hopefully above the rate of inflation.

When income yields do rise, bond prices will fall, creating temporary losses.  At that point bonds now earn an investor more than they did before the rate rise and they reach a breakeven point where the new higher yield has fully compensated them for the temporary capital losses suffered.  The time to break even is equivalent to the duration (similar to maturity) of an investor’s bond holdings.  Short-dated bonds with a three year duration will breakeven after three years.  Below is a hypothetical example.  Follow it through.

Table 1‑1: The impact of a 2% rise in yields on a 3 year duration bond portfolio

Year end Today Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5
Yield-to-maturity 1.5% 3.5% 3.5% 3.5% 3.5% 3.5%
Immediate yield rise % 2.0%
Capital loss* -6.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Yield during year 3.5% 3.5% 3.5% 3.5% 3.5%
Total return for the year -2.5% 3.5% 3.5% 3.5% 3.5%
Cumulative total return -2.5% 0.9% 4.4% 8.1% 11.9%
Annualised total return -2.5% 0.5% 1.5% 2.0% 2.3%

Note: * We have assumed that the capital loss is approximated by the rise in yields times the duration.  In reality due to convexity – capital losses would not be quite so great.

The bonds within our portfolios are generally within a 3-5 year duration period.

 Holding cash deposits is not the solution

Imagine that an investor felt that rate rises were likely to occur, with a detrimental – albeit temporary – impact on bond returns in the near future.   They decide to place a deposit for three years, receiving interest of 1.5% p.a., comparable to the current yield on three-year bonds.  In three years’ time when their deposit matures, they end up with the same return as the bond portfolio (green-coloured cell in the table above).  Why bother?

Our view is that long-term investors should stick with their bond holdings.  At some point they will need them to protect against turmoil in the equity markets and that is what they are there for. Remember ‘You don’t need bonds until you need them!’.

Warning – The above information is based upon the views  of Carpenter Rees Limited.  It is not intended as a personal recommendation and should not be relied upon as such.  The value of your investment can go down as well as up, and you can get back less than you originally invested.

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