Saturday, September 1, 2007

Bonds - Fixed Income Instrument

Having talked about bank deposits and forced savings through insurance product the past few weeks, today I shall cover another investment instrument that one can consider and that is Bonds.

What is Bonds?
When investing in bonds or fixed income/debt securities, you are actually lending money to finance a corporation or the government's operation, becoming a creditor of the corporation or government.

Bond investments are interest earning. It has a coupon rate which is the interest earning element and a maturity date. During the initial issue, a bond is sold at par value, or 100% of its face value, and the return (yield) is the coupon rate. Once a bond is issued, the coupon rate or interest is fixed and will not change throughout the term of the bond. However the price of the bond will change. This is because bonds can be bought or sold on the secondary market before they reach maturity. There is hardly a time when a bond is sold at par value. When a bond sells below its par value, it is said to be selling at a discount. On the other hand, if it sells above par value, it is selling at a premium.

A change in the price of the bond is caused by changes in interest rate. When interest rate rises, bond prices will depreciate. This is because new bond issues will have higher coupon rates than existing bonds. Therefore, bond prices will fall to compensate for the difference between the existing yield and the current market yield. Hence, an investor considering the purchase of the existing bond can earn additional interest by paying less (< $1000) for each bond and getting the same coupon rate. The opposite is true when interest rate in the market falls and new bond issues offer a coupon rate that is lower than the existing coupon rates. Bond prices will increase because whoever buys the bond at par value would be earning a coupon rate that is higher than market rate. This will result in excessive bidding for the bond due to its attractive yield. The price of the bond will then be bid up to the level where the bond offers a comparable yield as the current market yield, usually higher than the par value.

In summary:
When bond is sold at par, return = coupon rate;

When bond is sold at discount, return > coupon rate;
When bond is sold at premium, return < coupon rate

Henceforth, when investing in bonds, not only will you earn interest but also get the opportunity to sell at a premium when bond price increases. You can also choose to hold it till maturity should bond price decreases.

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