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What is the financial meaning of a bond?

Explore the multifaceted world of bonds in finance! Dive into their definition, structure, types, and benefits. Understand fixed and variable interest, learn how they're priced, and discover their role in stabilizing portfolios. An essential guide for every investor. Continue reading...

What is a Bond?

A bond is a contract which “binds” the lender to the debtor, where an individual investor is generally the lender and the debtor is the company or government which has borrowed funds. When a company or government entity needs more capital, whether to fund operations or a specific project, it can borrow money from investors instead of from a banking institution. Where there is a risk of the investor not being repaid, the interest rate will be proportionally higher. The simplest way a bond works is with set payments at set intervals that gradually repay the debt and interest owed to the investor over a set amount of time. Continue reading...

What are Bond Ratings?

The possibility of a company or municipal government defaulting on their bond obligations, usually by going bankrupt, is a real one. For this reason, all bonds are rated according to the financial stability of the issuer. A look at the history of corporate and municipal debt will illuminate the fact that the possibility of the issuer being unable to pay its obligations to bondholders is a very real one. There is an established system of bond ratings that gives a rough estimate of the bond's reliability. Continue reading...

What Percentage and What Kind of Bonds Should I Have in My Portfolio?

Bonds can provide consistency and balance to a portfolio otherwise comprised of stocks. In the long run, stocks are generally associated with a higher yield, but as we know, higher returns mean higher risks. Bonds are seen as a safer, yet lower-yielding investment. Bonds offer a spectrum of risk and return potential, however, and various kinds of bonds and bond funds can be used in various market climates and portfolios. Continue reading...

What is a Yield Curve?

A yield curve is an illustration of the current duration-to-yield relationship for bonds of the same credit rating but different durations. As a general rule, the longer the duration of the loan, the more risk you take on (since you don't know what might happen with that corporation in the future), and therefore, you demand a higher reward (i.e., higher coupon). The yield curve for any bond (not just the US Treasury Bonds) changes daily based on many economic and market factors. Continue reading...

What is a Credit Spread?

Credit Spread is an indication of the default risk perceived in corporate bonds at the current time. The credit spread is the difference between the yield on the safest bonds and the riskiest bonds. How much does it cost corporations to issue bonds, in terms of the yield expected by investors in the current market? Typically, a higher spread indicates a more unstable economy. Buyers of large quantities of bonds tend to insure their purchases, and the cost of the insurance is usually reflected in so-called CDS's (Credit Default Swaps). The more expensive the CDS's are, the more risky it is to purchase the bond. Continue reading...

How Do I Structure My Bond Portfolio?

There are three major ways to structure a bond portfolio: a ladder strategy, a barbell strategy, and a bullet strategy. A ladder strategy is structured by purchasing bonds of varying maturity dates, all at the same time. This means there will be several opportunities to make decisions at different dates in the future, so the owner of this portfolio keeps his or her options open to some extent, and has some liquidity over the course of the duration. A ladder might be used when rates are expected to stay about the same. Continue reading...

What is the Ladder Strategy for Structuring My Bond Portfolio?

The ladder provides the bondholder with a degree of freedom and some liquidity to take part in possibly improved interest rates in the future. The ladder strategy distributes your funds uniformly among bonds with various durations. For example, if you have $10,000, you buy one bond with a duration of one year, one bond with a duration of two years, etc. If the interest rates go up when the shorter-duration bonds expire, you will be able to reinvest this money with a higher coupon rate (of course, keep in mind that your longer-duration bonds would have fallen in price). Continue reading...

What is the Barbell Strategy for Structuring my Bond Portfolio?

A barbell strategy avoids intermediate-term bonds and equally invests in very short term and very long term durations. The barbell strategy divides a sum, for instance $10,000, equally among bonds with short durations and bonds with long durations. If the interest rates will go up sharply, the proceeds from your short-duration bonds will be reinvested into new bonds with much higher coupons. If the interest rates drop sharply, the proceeds from the bonds with shorter durations will be reinvested at a much lower coupon, but on the other hand, your long-duration bonds will rise sharply in price. Continue reading...

What Types of Bonds Are There?

Bonds are divided into a several categories, and it is possible to get substantial diversification within a bond portfolio alone. Bonds may be categorized into several types. There are investment grade bonds which are conservative and safe, high-yield bonds which are relatively risky and profitable, floating rate bonds whose coupon rate is not fixed, zero coupon bonds which only pay at maturity, and foreign bonds, and so on. Continue reading...

What Happens to the Price of a Bond After I Buy It?

Bonds can be traded on exchanges before their maturity date, but the price might fluctuate based on the current interest rate environment. As the buyer of, say, a $1,000 bond, you should be aware that as long as the company does not go bankrupt, you will receive $1,000 back at the date of maturity. During the life of the bond, however, the price at which you can sell that bond might oscillate depending on the interest rate environment and the perceived financial health of the company. Continue reading...

Can You Sell a Bond for Less Than the Price You Paid For It?

Yes, if you sell the bond before its maturity, it’s possible that you would have to sell it at a discount. If you bought a $1,000  bond with a 5% coupon, and a year later, the  company issued new $1,000 bonds with a 6% coupon, you would not be able to sell your bond to someone else for $1,000 (obviously, because they would rather purchase the new bonds for $1,000 which pay more annual interest than your old one). Continue reading...

Can You Pay More Than Nominal Value for a Bond?

Yes, and this is part of what’s called the interest rate risk of bonds. If someone purchased a $1,000 bond with a 5% coupon, and a year  later, the company issued new $1,000 bonds with a 4% coupon, in order to buy the 5% coupon bond from the owner, you would  obviously need to pay more than $1,000 (since the new bonds issued by the company have a 4% coupon). What does Nominal Value mean? What Happens to the Price of a Bond After I Buy It? Can You Sell a Bond for Less Than the Price You Paid For It? Continue reading...

What Happens When a Company Goes Bankrupt?

There is a hierarchy of which creditors and investors will be serviced first in the event that a company goes bankrupt. When a company goes bankrupt, it is unable to pay back the money that it borrowed. The higher the bond's rating, the less likely that the issuer will go bankrupt. To learn more about bond ratings, see “What are Bond Ratings?” The possibility of bankruptcy is the risk associated with investing in bonds - you can never know for sure if you will get your money back. Typically, bonds with higher coupons are riskier investments (again, the recurring theme of higher returns = higher risks!). For example, if you see a bond with a 30% coupon, there is (obviously) a greatly increased chance that the company will not be able to pay back your loan. Continue reading...

What are the Tax Implications of Owning Bonds?

Some bonds receive preferential tax treatment. The interest you receive is fully taxable, unless the bonds are issued by municipalities, states, federal governments, or corporations with special tax-exempt statuses (such as school districts, infrastructure facilities, hospitals, and so on). The first very general rule of thumb – if you reside in a certain municipality and buy bonds of that municipality, the interest is not taxable. Continue reading...

Is There Anything Else I Need to Know About Bonds?

There will always be more to learn in the investment world: innovation is always happening and the products will change along with market conditions. Bonds are no exception. The bond market is huge — actually larger than the stock market, if you can believe that — and there are literally hundreds of economic, market, and tax-related factors which influence the decisions of which bonds to buy. You must look at the yield curve, duration, rating of the issuer, your own cash flow needs, expected changes in the interest rate environment, changes in the overall health of the economy, tax implications, account in which you're buying bonds, and so forth. Therefore, structuring fixed income accounts is a task which is perhaps better left to professional advisors. Continue reading...

What is a Callable Bond?

A callable bond, also known as a “redeemable bond,” is one where the issuer has the ability to pay off the debt prior to its maturity date, with certain conditions. Which the issuer has the right to redeem prior to its maturity date, under certain conditions. The primary reason that an issuer would choose to “call” a bond is that interest rates have declined since the bond was issued. By calling the bond, the issuer generally has to opportunity to refinance that debt at a lower rate. Once called, the issuer will notify the creditor and pay off the debt, typically with a slight premium added to close the deal. Continue reading...

What is a Bond Ladder?

A bond ladder is a portfolio of bonds that have different maturities, that may range from months to years in difference. A bond ladder is designed to reduce interest rate risk and create predictable income streams. An investor will build a bond ladder often in an effort to reduce interest rate risk and also to create predictable income streams, where coupon payments happen at different times and principal is also returned in various intervals. Continue reading...

What is a Convertible Bond?

A convertible bond, also known as convertible debt, is debt that can be converted to equity (in the form of common stock) at the discretion of the bondholder. There are typically windows that an investor can choose to convert the bond to equity, which an investor may choose to do if they have confidence the company will continue to perform well. Because a convertible bond has the option to convert to stock, it typically offers a lower interest rate since the conversion capability itself has value. Continue reading...

What is a Corporate Bond?

A corporate bond is a debt security issued by a public or private company to raise capital. They are generally issued in multiples of $1,000 or $5,000, and the issuing company must agree to pay a certain interest rate typically determined by their creditworthiness and earning history/potential. Often times the corporation issuing the debt must use their physical assets as collateral, and it is often found that corporations are more likely to issue debt during an environment when interest rates are low, so they can borrow at attractive rates. Corporate debt that matures in less than one year is called ‘commercial paper.’ Continue reading...

What is a Bond Coupon?

A bond coupon is the interest rate that a bond issuer agrees to pay to the bondholder, representing the interest earned from owning the bond. Bond coupons are fixed at the time the bond is issued and remain constant throughout the bond's life. The fixed nature of bond coupons makes them an attractive investment for investors seeking predictable income streams. Continue reading...

What is a Zero Coupon Bond?

A Zero Coupon Bond is one that does not make interest payments - the bondholder only receives the face value back at time of maturity. The bond purchaser typically pays a deep discount for the bond, and the gain made over the life of the investment is the difference between the amount paid for the bond and the face value returned to the investor when the bond matures. What is a Bond Coupon? Is There Anything Else I Need to Know About Bonds? Continue reading...

What does Investment Grade Mean?

Investment grade refers to the highest quality of debt available, and usually means the bond has little risk of default. Determining a bond’s credit rating is typically handled by ratings agencies, which is far from a perfect process. Ratings agencies like Moody’s and S&P notoriously failed to rate mortgage backed securities as high risk in the months/years leading into the 2008 financial crisis, instead keeping them as investment grade even as the crisis took hold. Continue reading...

What is the Lehman Aggregate Bond Index?

The Lehman Aggregate Bond Index is a broad bond index, widely considered the best total bond market index to track performance across various types of bonds. The index includes government bonds, mortgage backed securities, corporate bonds, and asset backed securities with maturities greater than a year. It is used by many money managers as a measuring stick for tracking the relative performance of a managed bond portfolio. Continue reading...

What is Maturity?

Maturity is the amount of time an investment exists - once the security matures, it is paid off to the investor and concludes the transaction. Maturities are most commonly used in the fixed income context, with bonds having maturities consistent with when their principal is paid back to the investor. What is Yield to Maturity? How Do I Structure My Bond Portfolio? Continue reading...

What is a Treasury Note?

Treasury notes are government-issued coupon bonds with maturities between 1 and 10 years. A large secondary market exists for Treasury Notes, and they can be acquired at issue in a competitive bid or a noncompetitive bid auction. They are extremely popular for their marketability and six-month interest payment schedule. They do have interest rate risk, since treasuries issued with higher interest rates will make the ones already issued with lower rates less valuable. Continue reading...

What is Yield to Maturity?

The payments remaining on an interest-paying bond or instrument, plus principal, are totaled up and then annualized, and this annual rate is the yield to maturity. Yield to maturity is a calculation that helps an investor decide if he or she is getting a good deal. If yield to maturity is greater than the coupon rate, the bond is trading a a discount. If yield to maturity is less than the coupon rate, it is selling at a premium. If they are equal the bond is trading at par value. Continue reading...

What is an Asset-Backed Security?

Asset-backed securities are bonds or notes that come in several forms, but they typically use the cash flows from debt repayment as the asset that backs them. The assets that back the bonds called asset-backed securities (ABS) can be basically anything with a fairly predictable cash flow, but debt repayment cash flows tend to be used the most. These include credit card debt, home equity loans, auto loans, student loans, and so forth. Continue reading...

What is the Bond Market?

You might not know it, but the Bond Market is about twice the size of the Stock Market. It’s true; in the US and internationally, the bond market, which includes municipal bonds, corporate bonds, government bonds, v, etc, has almost twice the amount invested in it than the Stock Market. Within these categories, there are many subsets. Bonds are widely used by individual investors as well as corporations and governments. Continue reading...

What is a Bond Purchase Agreement?

If a municipality or company decides to issue bonds, they will need to form an alliance with an underwriting entity to help them price and distribute the bonds, and the Purchase Agreement outlines their contract. Underwriters on debt issues are normally large investment banks. They help the issuer, which could be a city government or company, structure the bonds and price them in a way that is suitable to their needs, and also agrees to help them distribute them. Continue reading...

Who is a Bond Trustee?

A bond trustee is an institution which has the fiduciary responsibility of administering and enforcing the terms of the bond indenture. A bond indenture is the contract between the bond issuer and the bondholder. A trustee has the resources to manage the distribution of the funds to the bondholders, to keep up with and distribute the required bookkeeping and statement information to the interested parties as well as regulators like the SEC. If there is a violation of the contract, the trustee must report it and act in the best interest of the wronged party. Continue reading...

What is Bond Yield?

Bond yield is a measure of the return on investment for bonds, and there several kinds of yield that can be computed. Yield on a bond is the amount of interest that it pays annually, as a percentage of the amount invested — at least, this is the most common type of yield discussed, which is known as Current Yield. If a bond pays quarterly or monthly income to the investor, these payments are totaled up and divided by the amount invested. Continue reading...

What is Bond Insurance?

Bond insurance is a contract that protects the issuer and the holder of bonds from the risk that bond payments will not be made. Bond issues from the corporate or municipal world, or from derivative sources as with asset-backed securities and CDOs, come with the risk of default-- that is, that payments will not be made on time. The major credit ratings agencies (CRAs) assign a risk of default to each bond issue with proprietary analysis methods and ratings. Continue reading...