Bonds are tradable debt instruments that allow governments and companies to borrow money from investors for a certain period of time. The issuer of the bond will agree to pay a certain level of interest periodically (the coupon) as well as returning the full capital value at a given date in the future (the maturity date). In the case of government bonds, the payment of interest and repayment of capital are backed by the issuing government – for example, UK government bonds (often called Gilts) are backed by the UK government. In the case of bonds issued by companies, interest and capital payments are backed by the relevant company. The company must make all of its bond payments before being allowed to pay any dividends to shareholders, and as such are safer investments than holding shares in the equity of the same company.
There are three main risks when investing in bonds:
Bonds can provide a steady stream of income for the portfolio. Certain types of bond such as high quality company and government bonds represent low risk investments, helping to provide some level of certainty in returns. It is important to be aware that as a rule the lowest risk bonds generally provide the lowest level of returns. Low risk bonds can help to protect the capital value of portfolios in times of equity market stress helping to reduce the volatility in portfolio returns. Generally, the proportion of bonds held in a portfolio will decrease as you move up the risk scale.
When investing in bonds we will first consider the way to make the investment. It may be that using an ETF or mutual fund in order to gain a diversified exposure is most appropriate, for example with corporate and overseas bonds where using a collective investment vehicle offers significant efficiency of cost and market access. Alternatively, if we are going to invest in single bond issues we will consider the credit quality of the issuer, the time until the bond matures and the level of yield the bond is paying (this is the amount of return we expect to make from buying the bond and holding it to its maturity).
We will at times invest in bonds issued by governments or companies from outside of the UK. We will typically invest in these bonds via ETFs or mutual funds for reasons of efficiency of cost and market access.
Netwealth does not charge any transaction fees for buying bonds. Where we invest in bonds via collective investment vehicles such as ETFs and mutual funds, there will be fees as explained in the ETFs and Mutual Funds sections of the Knowledge Centre.