Join        Login             Stock Quote

Investing In Bonds: Three Steps To Smarter Bond Investing

 March 05, 2012 12:21 PM

At our Oxford Club Chairman's Circle conference at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples last week, I noted a decided optimism about the outlook for the bond market. This enthusiasm is almost certainly misplaced.

We're at the tail end of the biggest 30-year rally in bonds the nation has ever seen. Recall that three decades ago, Fed Chairman Paul Volcker pushed the prime rate all the way up to 21.5% to squelch inflation. Long-term Treasury yields reached 16%. But from that pinnacle, long-term yields have plummeted to around 3% today. Bond prices have soared accordingly.

It isn't just unlikely that today's bond buyers will see annual double-digit returns going forward, it's mathematically impossible. And yet I sense that many fixed-income investors don't understand this.

[Related -Bogle Says Indexing Destined To Win The Battle Of The Quants]

It's not unusual to meet an investor who has plunked money in a bond fund because "its long-term track record is excellent." They don't seem to realize that it's also irrelevant. Never has the old saw, "Past returns are no guarantee of future results," been more apropos.

This doesn't mean you should avoid bonds altogether, of course. But if you're going to buy bonds, now more than ever you need to be smart about it. Here's what you should do:

  1. Ladder your maturities. You should buy two-year, five-year and 10-year bonds. If rates go up – as they will eventually – your bond prices will fall, temporarily. But you will get your principal back at maturity and be able to reinvest your principal at higher rates. And paltry as bond yields are today, they still beat the heck out of the 0.05% that the average money market fund is paying.
  2. Keep a close eye on expenses. In the world of fixed-income investing, keeping a Scrooge-like eye on expenses is essential. Why? Because it's difficult to work magic in the button-down world of fixed-income investing. Managers rarely earn their fees. And 12b-1 fees can eat away at your returns like termites in an antebellum house. My advice is to stick with individual bonds, Vanguard funds (whose expenses are one-sixth of the industry average) and low-cost ETFs.
  3. Avoid leveraged bond funds. Ever wonder how bond yields can be so low and yet the yield on your closed- or open-end bond fund is higher, even after expenses? Open your eyes. Unless you're holding junk bonds, your fund manager is using leverage, the fixed-income equivalent of buying stocks on margin. By borrowing cheap, he or she is leveraging the portfolio to add yield. This works just fine while bond prices are flat or rising. But when bond prices fall – as they will when interest rates rise – these shareholders will take a shellacking. Consider yourself forewarned.

[Related -VMAX and VMIN Poised to Be Most Important VIX ETP Launch in Years]

Some fixed-income investors tell me they feel safe for now since Bernanke has pledged to keep interest rates low through 2014. Think again. The Fed has only announced its intention to keep rates low. (Future economic conditions could quickly change that.) The Fed is also keeping long-term bond yields artificially low by buying these instruments to goose the economy.

Inflation could tick up. The Fed could raise rates and/or quit buying long-term Treasuries. In the end, the Federal Reserve sets short-term interest rates, but not bond yields and prices.

Know this. Understand it. And act accordingly. Bond investors today should be in a defensive posture, capturing higher yields than what's available in cash instruments, but prepared for that point in the future when bond yields will rise and prices will fall.

Good Investing,

Alexander Green



Post Comment -- Login is required to post message
Alert for new comments:
Your email:
Your Website:

rss feed

Latest Stories

article imageBogle Says Indexing Destined To Win The Battle Of The Quants

Vanguard founder John Bogle gave a powerful speech last month at the Q Group’s Spring Seminar that lays out read on...

article imageVMAX and VMIN Poised to Be Most Important VIX ETP Launch in Years

REX Shares is launching two new VIX exchange-traded products on Tuesday in what is likely to be the most read on...

article imageThe April 29 Gold Triangle Breakout Update

If you’re just watching stocks, you may be missing this powerful Triangle Breakout surge in read on...

article imageSell In May, But It Is A Presidential Election Year

With May just around the corner, articles covering the "Sell in May' phenomenon are not in short supply and read on...

Popular Articles

Daily Sector Scan
Partner Center

Fundamental data is provided by Zacks Investment Research, and Commentary, news and Press Releases provided by YellowBrix and Quotemedia.
All information provided "as is" for informational purposes only, not intended for trading purposes or advice. iStockAnalyst.com is not an investment adviser and does not provide, endorse or review any information or data contained herein.
The blog articles are opinions by respective blogger. By using this site you are agreeing to terms and conditions posted on respective bloggers' website.
The postings/comments on the site may or may not be from reliable sources. Neither iStockAnalyst nor any of its independent providers is liable for any informational errors, incompleteness, or delays, or for any actions taken in reliance on information contained herein. You are solely responsible for the investment decisions made by you and the consequences resulting therefrom. By accessing the iStockAnalyst.com site, you agree not to redistribute the information found therein.
The sector scan is based on 15-30 minutes delayed data. The Pattern scan is based on EOD data.