Understanding Fixed Income Investing: Expectations - Part One

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I’ve come to the conclusion that the Stock Market is an easier medium for investors to understand (i.e., to form behavioral expectations about) than the Fixed Income Market. As unlikely as this sounds, experience proves it, irrefutably. Few investors grow to love volatility as I do, but most expect it in the Market Value of their equity positions. When dealing with Fixed Income Securities however, neither they nor their advisors are comfortable with any downward movement at all. Most won’t consider taking profits when prices increase, but will rush in to accept losses when prices fall.

Here are the important characteristics of Fixed Income Securities:

  • They are securities that generate a predictable stream of interest or dividend income, such as bonds, debentures and preferred shares.
  • They normally have specific payment dates and amounts.
  • Risk will vary, depending on the type, quality, and maturity of the security, but they are considered far less risky than stocks.
  • Fixed income securities are issued by governments or corporations, and have a maturity date, when the issuer has to pay the investor the principal plus interest.
  • They do fluctuate in market price, but not as a function of investment safety.

Theoretically, Fixed Income Securities should be the ultimate Buy and Hold; their primary purpose is income generation, and return of principal is typically a contractual obligation. I like to add some seasoning to this bland diet, through profit taking whenever possible, but losses are almost never an acceptable, or necessary, menu item. Still, Wall Street pumps out products and Investment Experts rationalize strategies that cloud the simple rules governing the behavior of what should be an investor’s retirement blankie. I shake my head in disbelief, constantly. The investment gods have spoken: “The market price of Fixed Income Securities shall vary inversely with Interest Rates, both actual and anticipated… and it is good.”

It’s OK, it’s natural, it just doesn’t matter, I say to disbelieving audiences everywhere. You have to understand how these securities react to interest rate expectations and take advantage of it. There’s no need to hedge against it, or to cry about it. It’s simply the nature of things. This is the first of three successive articles I’ll be writing about Fixed Income Investing. If I don’t improve your comfort level with this effort, perhaps the next one will strike the proper chord.

There are several reasons why investors have invalid expectations about their Fixed Income investments: (1) They don’t experience this type of investing until retirement planning time and they view all securities with an eye on Market Value, as they have been programmed to do by Wall Street. (2) The combination of increasing age and inexperience creates an inordinate fear of loss that is prayed upon by commissioned sales persons of all shapes and sizes. (3) They have trouble distinguishing between the income generating purpose of Fixed Income Securities and the fact that they are negotiable instruments with a Market Value that is a function of current, as opposed to contractual, interest rates. (4) They have been brainwashed into believing that the Market Value of their portfolio, and not the income that it generates, is their primary weapon against inflation. [Really, Alice, if you held these securities in a safe deposit box instead of a brokerage account, and just received the income, the perception of loss, the fear, and the rush to make a change would simply disappear. Think about it.]

Every properly constructed portfolio will contain securities whose primary purpose is to generate income (fixed and/or variable), and every investor must understand some basic and “absolute” characteristics of Interest Rate Sensitive Securities. These securities include Corporate, Government, and Municipal Bonds, Preferred Stocks, many Closed End Funds, Unit Trusts, REITs, Royalty Trusts, Treasury Securities, etc. Most are legally binding contracts between the owner of the securities (you, or an Investment Company that you own a piece of) and an entity that promises to pay a Fixed Rate of Interest for the use of the money. They are primary debts of the issuer, and must be paid before all other obligations. They are negotiable, meaning that they can be bought and sold, at a price that varies with current interest rates. The longer the duration of the obligation, the more price fluctuation cycles will occur during the holding period. Typically, longer obligations also have higher interest rates. Two things are accomplished by buying shorter duration securities: you earn less interest and you pay your broker a commission more frequently.

Click for Details --> Fixed Income Investing Part 2 <--

 
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Please read this disclaimer:
Steve Selengut is registered as an investment advisor representative. His assessments and opinions are purely his own and do not represent the views of any other entity. None of his commentary is or should be considered either investment advice or a solicitation of business. Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be or should be construed as an endorsement of any entity or organization. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or investments mentioned are any more than illustrations --- they are never recommendations, and others will most certainly disagree with the thoughts presented in the article.