Buying individual bonds

By Cate Long
May 11, 2012

I’ve previously featured a guest post about the advantage to retail investors of buying municipal bond mutual funds. Retail investors can also directly buy individual municipal bonds. This is a tiny part of muniland, but I could see it growing in the future. Today, I welcome a guest post from Andrew Wels, the head of retail fixed income and vice-president for retail at E*Trade Securities. Wels writes about the advantage of buying individual bonds and “laddering” them.

Buying individual bonds
by Andrew Wels

Most financial professionals would agree that a mix of stocks and bonds is essential to a well diversified portfolio. Stocks provide growth potential, and bonds offer both regular income and return of principal upon maturity. Many individual investors are familiar with selecting stocks, but bond investing tends to be viewed as more complex.

Bond funds vs. bond ladders

A bond fund, an investment in a portfolio of individual bonds, is a popular investment vehicle for accessing the fixed-income markets. Bond funds offer diversification and some characteristics of the underlying individual bonds in which they invest. Unlike individual bonds, the interest income from a bond fund is not fixed, so there is no fixed maturity date. For the past several decades, declining interest rates have generally boosted the net asset value of bond funds. Consider the inverse: When interest rates rise, bond fund values tend to decline, exposing an investor’s principal to risk.

In a period of rising interest rates, investing in a ladder of individual bonds and holding them to maturity can help mitigate the principal risk inherent in investing in a single bond. A bond ladder is a diversified portfolio of individual bonds with staggered maturities. At each interval, a portion of the bonds in the ladder mature, and the proceeds may be reinvested at the then-prevailing interest rates, which may be higher or lower than the original rate, or used for other purposes.

Bond ladders offer the benefit of a predictable income stream derived from interest payments and periodically maturing bonds. Through bond ladders, investors can build a diversified bond portfolio that provides a mix of yield and credit quality tailored to one’s individual needs, time horizon and risk tolerance.

Considerations for bond investing

Each investor’s needs are different. When considering the appropriate bond strategy, please remember that there are risks associated with investing, such as interest-rate, market, credit and default risk. Diversification, convenience, cost, control and investment objectives should also be considered. To help educate themselves on the bond markets, investors can take advantage of the resources and tools companies like E*Trade Securities offer for finding the fixed income investments that are right for them and monitoring investments’ performance and credit quality.

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