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Effective Ways to Invest in Bonds

· Business

The economy has started gaining speed at last! Employees are getting better wages at a more rapid rate since the global economic meltdown. Inflation is making a comeback such that the Federal Reserve is planning to raise interest rates this year for probably three times. Meanwhile, the new administration under Trump is poised to let the economy burgeon with increased spending in infrastructure and tax cuts.

Under such economic prospects, many bonds can wither, leading fixed-income prices to drop recently and raising yields on 10-year Treasuries to over a percentage point since last summer. Consequently, a core bond — meaning intermediate- and longer-term Treasuries and high-value corporate bonds that sustain many retirement portfolios — have experienced loses of over 3% since July.

With increasing rates now, one should expect even extreme jumps. 10-year Treasury returns are predicted to hover between the current 2.5% and about 3%, for this year, alleviating price decreases.

Nevertheless, there are no high prospects from price advantages. "For years, investors have been encouraged with the good yields that bonds have given for many years," according to John Canally, chief economic strategist at LPL Financial. So, it is opportune to consider how to handle your bond portfolio steadily in the emerging environment landscape of increasing rates and risks.

Consider the Short-Term View

With increasing rates, the price of traditional, lower-yielding bonds goes down. However, short-term debt suffers lower loses compared to longer-term securities.

One more motivation to consider shorter-term debt is this: With government priming the economy through federal spending and tax cuts and extending this aging recovery, top-quality companies will be capable of paying their debts sooner. "We can check corporate balance sheets and expect cash flow for one to three years," according to Warren Pierson, senior portfolio manager with Baird. "However, that is not the case for bonds with 10-, 15-, and 20-year maturity dates," he adds.

Vanguard Short-Term Investment Grade (VFSTX) has a maturity of 2.6 years, meaning that a full rate increase will lead to a decline of 2.6% in the fund's holdings. This fund has overtaken over 75% of its peers in the past three, five, 10, and 15 years.

Bank on Higher Income

There is another kind of short-term fund worth considering as rates continue to rise: funds which invest in floating-rate debt, referred to as bank loans. When rates increase, returns on many of these securities follow the market rates. In fact, since July, when rates began going up, this type of funds has gained 5%.

Be reminded, however, that floating-rate securities are normally issued by firms with below-investment level balance sheets. The mean holding in PowerShares Senior Loan ETF (BKLN) has a rating of B -- right there at the "trash" status, making these funds good alternative options to long-term, high-gain bonds.

Get Some Inflation Protection

Why do rates go up in the first place? At present, five-year Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities will beat five-year Treasuries when inflation reaches over 1.86%, which is a bit lower than the 2% or so inflation rate predicted to occur for 2017. Vanguard Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (VIPSX) has the potential to give over 3%.

Be forewarned that TIPS are almost twice as fickle as a core bond fund; hence, keep your investment to a maximum of about 10% of core bonds.

Never Over-Accelerate Your Core

Whereas core funds pose greater risk compared to shorter-dated bonds, "a core bond fund can still provide quite an important function in a diversified portfolio by offsetting equity volatility," says Toms.

Remember, the regular core bond fund has expected five-year duration, more or less. Nevertheless, the main purpose for having bonds is to counterbalance possible losses in the stock market and avoid fraud. And to achieve a truly sound long-term, diversified portfolio, a bond with a five-year duration can provide a good balancing leverage between rising volatility and runaway rates.

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