Bond (finance)

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This article is about the financial instrument. For other uses, see Bond (disambiguation).

In finance, a bond is an instrument of indebtedness of the bond issuer to the holders. It is a debt security, under which the issuer owes the holders a debt and, depending on the terms of the bond, is obliged to pay them interest (the coupon) and/or to repay the principal at a later date, termed the maturity date.[1] Interest is usually payable at fixed intervals (semiannual, annual, sometimes monthly). Very often the bond is negotiable, i.e. the ownership of the instrument can be transferred in the secondary market. This means that once the transfer agents at the bank medallion stamp the bond, it is highly liquid on the second market. [2]

Thus a bond is a form of loan or IOU: the holder of the bond is the lender (creditor), the issuer of the bond is the borrower (debtor), and the coupon is the interest. Bonds provide the borrower with external funds to finance long-term investments, or, in the case of government bonds, to finance current expenditure. Certificates of deposit (CDs) or short term commercial paper are considered to be money market instruments and not bonds: the main difference is in the length of the term of the instrument.

Bonds and stocks are both securities, but the major difference between the two is that (capital) stockholders have an equity stake in the company (i.e. they are investors), whereas bondholders have a creditor stake in the company (i.e. they are lenders). Being a creditor, bondholders have absolute priority and will be repaid before stockholders (who are owners) in the event of bankruptcy.[3] Another difference is that bonds usually have a defined term, or maturity, after which the bond is redeemed, whereas stocks are typically outstanding indefinitely. An exception is an irredeemable bond, such as Consols, which is a perpetuity, i.e. a bond with no maturity.

Issuance[edit]

Bonds are issued by public authorities, credit institutions, companies and supranational institutions in the primary markets. The most common process for issuing bonds is through underwriting. When a bond issue is underwritten, one or more securities firms or banks, forming a syndicate, buy the entire issue of bonds from the issuer and re-sell them to investors. The security firm takes the risk of being unable to sell on the issue to end investors. Primary issuance is arranged by bookrunners who arrange the bond issue, have direct contact with investors and act as advisers to the bond issuer in terms of timing and price of the bond issue. The bookrunner is listed first among all underwriters participating in the issuance in the tombstone ads commonly used to announce bonds to the public. The bookrunners' willingness to underwrite must be discussed prior to any decision on the terms of the bond issue as there may be limited demand for the bonds.

In contrast, government bonds are usually issued in an auction. In some cases both members of the public and banks may bid for bonds. In other cases only market makers may bid for bonds. The overall rate of return on the bond depends on both the terms of the bond and the price paid.[4] The terms of the bond, such as the coupon, are fixed in advance and the price is determined by the market.

In the case of an underwritten bond, the underwriters will charge a fee for underwriting. An alternative process for bond issuance, which is commonly used for smaller issues and avoids this cost, is the private placement bond. Bonds sold directly to buyers and may not be tradeable in the bond market.[5]

Historically an alternative practice of issuance was for the borrowing government authority to issue bonds over a period of time, usually at a fixed price, with volumes sold on a particular day dependent on market conditions. This was called a tap issue or bond tap.[6]

Features[edit]

Principal[edit]

Nominal, principal, par or face amount is the amount on which the issuer pays interest, and which, most commonly, has to be repaid at the end of the term. Some structured bonds can have a redemption amount which is different from the face amount and can be linked to performance of particular assets such as a stock or commodity index, foreign exchange rate or a fund. This can result in an investor receiving less or more than his original investment at maturity.

Maturity[edit]

The issuer has to repay the nominal amount on the maturity date. As long as all due payments have been made, the issuer has no further obligations to the bond holders after the maturity date. The length of time until the maturity date is often referred to as the term or tenor or maturity of a bond. The maturity can be any length of time, although debt securities with a term of less than one year are generally designated money market instruments rather than bonds. Most bonds have a term of up to 30 years. Some bonds have been issued with terms of 50 years or more, and historically there have been some issues with no maturity date (irredeemables). In the market for United States Treasury securities, there are three categories of bond maturities:

Coupon[edit]

The coupon is the interest rate that the issuer pays to the holder. Usually this rate is fixed throughout the life of the bond. It can also vary with a money market index, such as LIBOR, or it can be even more exotic. The name "coupon" arose because in the past, paper bond certificates were issued which had coupons attached to them, one for each interest payment. On the due dates the bondholder would hand in the coupon to a bank in exchange for the interest payment. Interest can be paid at different frequencies: generally semi-annual, i.e. every 6 months, or annual.

Bond issued by the Dutch East India Company in 1623

Yield[edit]

The yield is the rate of return received from investing in the bond. It usually refers either to

Credit Quality[edit]

The "quality" of the issue refers to the probability that the bondholders will receive the amounts promised at the due dates. This will depend on a wide range of factors. High-yield bonds are bonds that are rated below investment grade by the credit rating agencies. As these bonds are more risky than investment grade bonds, investors expect to earn a higher yield. These bonds are also called junk bonds.

Market Price[edit]

The market price of a tradeable bond will be influenced amongst other things by the amounts, currency and timing of the interest payments and capital repayment due, the quality of the bond, and the available redemption yield of other comparable bonds which can be traded in the markets.

The price can be quoted as clean or dirty. ("Dirty" includes the present value of all future cash flows including accrued interest. Most often used in Europe.; "Clean" does not include accrued interest. Most often used in the U.S.[7] )

The issue price at which investors buy the bonds when they are first issued will typically be approximately equal to the nominal amount. The net proceeds that the issuer receives are thus the issue price, less issuance fees. The market price of the bond will vary over its life: it may trade at a premium (above par, usually because market interest rates have fallen since issue), or at a discount (price below par, if market rates have risen or there is a high probability of default on the bond).

Others[edit]

Types[edit]

Bond certificate for the state of South Carolina issued in 1873 under the state's Consolidation Act.
Railroad obligation Moscow-Kiev-Voronezh

The following descriptions are not mutually exclusive, and more than one of them may apply to a particular bond.

Receipt for temporary bonds for the state of Kansas issued in 1922

Foreign currencies[edit]

Some companies, banks, governments, and other sovereign entities may decide to issue bonds in foreign currencies as it may appear to be more stable and predictable than their domestic currency. Issuing bonds denominated in foreign currencies also gives issuers the ability to access investment capital available in foreign markets. The proceeds from the issuance of these bonds can be used by companies to break into foreign markets, or can be converted into the issuing company's local currency to be used on existing operations through the use of foreign exchange swap hedges. Foreign issuer bonds can also be used to hedge foreign exchange rate risk. Some foreign issuer bonds are called by their nicknames, such as the "samurai bond." These can be issued by foreign issuers looking to diversify their investor base away from domestic markets. These bond issues are generally governed by the law of the market of issuance, e.g., a samurai bond, issued by an investor based in Europe, will be governed by Japanese law. Not all of the following bonds are restricted for purchase by investors in the market of issuance.

Bond valuation[edit]

See also: Bond valuation

At the time of issue of the bond, the interest rate and other conditions of the bond will have been influenced by a variety of factors, such as current market interest rates, the length of the term and the creditworthiness of the issuer.

These factors are likely to change over time, so the market price of a bond will vary after it is issued. The market price is expressed as a percentage of nominal value. Bonds are not necessarily issued at par (100% of face value, corresponding to a price of 100), but bond prices will move towards par as they approach maturity (if the market expects the maturity payment to be made in full and on time) as this is the price the issuer will pay to redeem the bond. This is referred to as "Pull to Par". At other times, prices can be above par (bond is priced at greater than 100), which is called trading at a premium, or below par (bond is priced at less than 100), which is called trading at a discount. Most government bonds are denominated in units of $1000 in the United States, or in units of £100 in the United Kingdom. Hence, a deep discount US bond, selling at a price of 75.26, indicates a selling price of $752.60 per bond sold. (Often, in the US, bond prices are quoted in points and thirty-seconds of a point, rather than in decimal form.) Some short-term bonds, such as the U.S. Treasury bill, are always issued at a discount, and pay par amount at maturity rather than paying coupons. This is called a discount bond.

The market price of a bond is the present value of all expected future interest and principal payments of the bond discounted at the bond's yield to maturity, or rate of return. That relationship is the definition of the redemption yield on the bond, which is likely to be close to the current market interest rate for other bonds with similar characteristics. (Otherwise there would be arbitrage opportunities.) The yield and price of a bond are inversely related so that when market interest rates rise, bond prices fall and vice versa.

The market price of a bond may be quoted including the accrued interest since the last coupon date. (Some bond markets include accrued interest in the trading price and others add it on separately when settlement is made.) The price including accrued interest is known as the "full" or "dirty price". (See also Accrual bond.) The price excluding accrued interest is known as the "flat" or "clean price".

The interest rate divided by the current price of the bond is called the current yield (this is the nominal yield multiplied by the par value and divided by the price). There are other yield measures that exist such as the yield to first call, yield to worst, yield to first par call, yield to put, cash flow yield and yield to maturity.

The relationship between yield and term to maturity (or alternatively between yield and the weighted mean term allowing for both interest and capital repayment) for otherwise identical bonds is called a yield curve. The yield curve is a graph plotting this relationship.

Bond markets, unlike stock or share markets, sometimes do not have a centralized exchange or trading system. Rather, in most developed bond markets such as the U.S., Japan and western Europe, bonds trade in decentralized, dealer-based over-the-counter markets. In such a market, market liquidity is provided by dealers and other market participants committing risk capital to trading activity. In the bond market, when an investor buys or sells a bond, the counterparty to the trade is almost always a bank or securities firm acting as a dealer. In some cases, when a dealer buys a bond from an investor, the dealer carries the bond "in inventory", i.e. holds it for his own account. The dealer is then subject to risks of price fluctuation. In other cases, the dealer immediately resells the bond to another investor.

Bond markets can also differ from stock markets in that, in some markets, investors sometimes do not pay brokerage commissions to dealers with whom they buy or sell bonds. Rather, the dealers earn revenue by means of the spread, or difference, between the price at which the dealer buys a bond from one investor—the "bid" price—and the price at which he or she sells the same bond to another investor—the "ask" or "offer" price. The bid/offer spread represents the total transaction cost associated with transferring a bond from one investor to another.

Investing in bonds[edit]

Bonds are bought and traded mostly by institutions like central banks, sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds, and banks. Insurance companies and pension funds have liabilities which essentially include fixed amounts payable on predetermined dates. They buy the bonds to match their liabilities, and may be compelled by law to do this. Most individuals who want to own bonds do so through bond funds. Still, in the U.S., nearly 10% of all bonds outstanding are held directly by households.

The volatility of bonds (especially short and medium dated bonds) is lower than that of equities (stocks). Thus bonds are generally viewed as safer investments than stocks, but this perception is only partially correct. Bonds do suffer from less day-to-day volatility than stocks, and bonds' interest payments are sometimes higher than the general level of dividend payments. Bonds are often liquid – it is often fairly easy for an institution to sell a large quantity of bonds without affecting the price much, which may be more difficult for equities – and the comparative certainty of a fixed interest payment twice a year and a fixed lump sum at maturity is attractive. Bondholders also enjoy a measure of legal protection: under the law of most countries, if a company goes bankrupt, its bondholders will often receive some money back (the recovery amount), whereas the company's equity stock often ends up valueless. However, bonds can also be risky but less risky than stocks:

Bonds are also subject to various other risks such as call and prepayment risk, credit risk, reinvestment risk, liquidity risk, event risk, exchange rate risk, volatility risk, inflation risk, sovereign risk and yield curve risk. Again, some of these will only affect certain classes of investors.

Price changes in a bond will immediately affect mutual funds that hold these bonds. If the value of the bonds in their trading portfolio falls, the value of the portfolio also falls. This can be damaging for professional investors such as banks, insurance companies, pension funds and asset managers (irrespective of whether the value is immediately "marked to market" or not). If there is any chance a holder of individual bonds may need to sell his bonds and "cash out", interest rate risk could become a real problem (conversely, bonds' market prices would increase if the prevailing interest rate were to drop, as it did from 2001 through 2003. One way to quantify the interest rate risk on a bond is in terms of its duration. Efforts to control this risk are called immunization or hedging.

There is no guarantee of how much money will remain to repay bondholders. As an example, after an accounting scandal and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the giant telecommunications company Worldcom, in 2004 its bondholders ended up being paid 35.7 cents on the dollar[citation needed]. In a bankruptcy involving reorganization or recapitalization, as opposed to liquidation, bondholders may end up having the value of their bonds reduced, often through an exchange for a smaller number of newly issued bonds.

Bond indices[edit]

A number of bond indices exist for the purposes of managing portfolios and measuring performance, similar to the S&P 500 or Russell Indexes for stocks. The most common American benchmarks are the Barclays Capital Aggregate (ex Lehman Aggregate), Citigroup BIG and Merrill Lynch Domestic Master. Most indices are parts of families of broader indices that can be used to measure global bond portfolios, or may be further subdivided by maturity and/or sector for managing specialized portfolios.

See also[edit]

Market specific:

General:

References[edit]

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