The bull market in bonds has persisted for MORE than 30 years. It began when The Cosby Show was in its heyday, when the first Apple Macintosh computers arrived in homes, and when Clara Peller famously asked, “Where’s the beef?” in a popular television commercial. The bull market began late in 1981 when 30-year U.S. Treasury bond rates hit an all time high of 15.2 percent and 10-year Treasuries topped out at 15.8 percent. Thirty-three years later, in mid-2014, 30-year Treasuries and their 10-year brethren offered rates in the low single digits.
MarketWatch.com says the lengthy bull market in bonds has important implications:
“… Assuming the typical investor doesn’t seriously start thinking about investing until he is 25 or 30 years old, especially about investing in bonds, that means that anyone today not in, or very close to, retirement has only known a bond bull market. That’s an amazing historical and psychological fact, the significance of which cannot be overstated. It means that very few investors today have the long-term perspective with which to properly assess whether bonds are likely to suffer major declines in coming years.”
After 30-odd years of declining interest rates, some experts believe investors should prepare for a period of rising rates. Since there is an inverse relationship between bond prices and interest rates, higher rates could mean declining bond prices. How much could the price of a bond decline? It all depends on the bond’s duration. Duration is expressed as a number of years and measures the sensitivity of a bond to interest rate movements. The longer the duration of a bond, the more sensitive it is to changing rates, and vice-versa. Investopedia.com describes duration like this:
“The duration number is a complicated calculation involving present value, yield, coupon, final maturity, and call features. Fortunately, for investors, this indicator is a standard data point provided in the presentation of comprehensive bond and bond mutual fund information. The bigger the duration number, the greater the interest-rate risk or reward for bond prices.”
If rates move higher, a portfolio with long-term, long-duration bonds may experience a significant reduction in value. Be careful out there.
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