Fixed income is an investment that provides a steady stream of cash flows.Common examples include defined-benefit pensions, bonds, and loans. Fixed incomealso includes certificates of deposit, savings accounts, money market funds, and fixed-rate annuities. You can invest in fixed-income securities via bond mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs),and fixed-income derivatives.
Types of Fixed Income
There are four broad categories of fixed-income investments. Short-term products return a low rate, but they only tie up your money for a few months at most. Long-term products pay higher rates, but you must leave your money invested for years.
The interest rates on short-term fixed-income accounts are reflective of the fed funds rate. When the fed funds rate was lowered to zero in 2008, these products earned super-low interest rates. To gain a higher yield, manyindividual investorsshifted from short-term to longer-term investments. Businesses use short-term loans to cover the cash flow needed to pay for day-to-day operations.
- Savings accounts: The bankpays you a fixed rate of interest, based on the fed funds rate. You can add or withdraw whenever you like.
- Money market accounts: The bank pays you a slightly higher fixed rate of interest. In return,you must keep a minimum amount deposited. You are limited in the number of transactions you can make in a year.
- Certificates of deposit: You must keep your money invested for an agreed-upon periodto get the promised rate of return.
- Money market funds: These are mutual funds that invest in a variety of short-term investments. You get paid a fixed rate based onshort-termsecurities. These include Treasury bills, federal agency notes, and Eurodollar deposits. They also include repurchase agreements, certificates of deposit, and corporate commercial paper. They are based on obligations of states, cities, or other types of municipal agencies.
- Short-term bond funds: These mutual funds invest in one-year to four-year bonds, largely, investment grade corporate bonds.
This type of instrument reflects a debt arrangement between a corporate or government issuer and an investor (creditor).For corporate issues, the interest rates offered depend on Treasury rates as well as the credit risk and duration risk associated with the issue.
Investment grade bonds are generally considered stable investments.For this reason, they typically offer lower returns than higher-risk assets, such as stocks.Historically, bond prices have exhibited minimal correlation to stock prices, even negative correlation during recessionary periods.However, that has changed in recent years, as the two asset classes have exhibited a much higher degree of correlation.
Here are the different types of bonds:
- Government bonds are the safest, because they are guaranteed. Since they're the safest, they offer the lowest returns. U.S. Treasury notes and bondsare the most popular, with $16.6 trillion outstanding in 2019. Savings bonds are also guaranteed by the U.S. Treasury. They are designed for smaller investors. Municipal bonds, at $3.8 trillion outstanding, are sold by cities, states, and other municipalities.
- Corporate bondsoffer a higher rate. Companies sell them when they need cash but don't want to issue stocks.There are currently $8.1trillion in these bonds outstanding.
- There are two hybrids of corporate bonds and stocks. Preferred stockspay a regular dividend, even though they are a type of stock.Convertible bondsare bonds that can be converted to stocks. Stocks that pay regular dividends are often substituted for fixed-income bonds. Although they are not technically fixed income,portfolio managers often treat them as such.
- Eurobonds is the common name for Eurodollar bonds. These are international bonds denominated in a currency other than that of the domestic currency of the market in which they are issued.One example is a European company issuing bonds in Japan, which are denominated in U.S. dollars.
- Bond mutual funds are mutual funds that own a large number of bonds. That allows the individual investor to gain the benefits of owning bonds without the hassle of buying and selling them. Mutual funds grant greater diversification than most investors could obtain on their own.
- Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) track the performance of a bond index. They aren't actively managed like mutual funds. Bond ETFs are popular because they have low costs.
There are manyfinancial derivatives that base their value on fixed-income products. They have the most potential return because you invest less of your money. But if they lose money, you could lose much more than your initial investment. Sophisticated investors, companies, and financial firms use themto hedgeagainst losses.
- Optionsgive a buyer the right, but not the obligation, to trade a bond at a certain price on an agreed-upon future date. The right to buy a bond is called acall option. The right to sell a bond is theput option. They are traded on a regulated exchange.
- Futures contractsare like options, except they bindparticipants to execute the trade. They are traded on an exchange.
- Forward contracts are like futures contracts, except they are not traded on an exchange. Instead, they are traded Over the Counter (OTC), either between the two parties directly or through a bank. They are often very customized to the particular needs of the two parties.
- Mortgage-backed securities (MBS)derive their value from bundles of home loans. Like a bond, they offer a rate of return based on Treasury rates as well as the risks specific to the underlying assets.
- Collateralized debt obligations (CDO)derive their value from a variety of underlying assets, including corporate bank loans, auto loans, and credit card debt.
- Asset-backed commercial paperare one-year corporate bond packages. They are based on underlying commercial assets. These includereal estate, corporate auto fleets, or other business property.
- Interest rate swapsare contracts that allow investors to swap their future interest rate payments (or receipts).Oftentimes, this arrangement involves a payer (or receiver) of a fixed-rate stream of interest bond and a payer (or receiver) of a floating-rate stream of interest.They trade OTC.Swaptions are options on an underlying interest rate swap—a derivative based on a derivative.Generally, swaps and swaptions should be used for hedging purposed by sophisticated investors; they should not be used by inexperienced investors looking to speculate on interest rate movements.
- Total return swaps are like interest rate swaps, except they involve the exchange of cash flows associated with one asset and another tied to a benchmark or index (such as the S&P 500).
Third-Party Fixed Income Payment Streams
Somefixed income streams don't depend on the value of an investment. Instead, the payment is guaranteed by a third party.
Fixed payments available after a certain age.It's guaranteed by the federal government and is calculated based on payroll taxes you've paid. It's managed by the Social Security Trust Fund.
Fixed payments guaranteed by your employer, based on the number of years you worked and your salary. Companies, unions, and governments use pension funds to make sure there's enough to make the payments. As more workers retire, fewer companies are offering this benefit.
Fixed-rate annuities are an insurance product that guarantees you a fixed payment over an agreed-upon period. These are increasing since fewer workers receive pensions. One variation of this product that can provide some long-term upside is a variable annuity. In certain cases, it can offer an agreed-upon fixed payout stream, which is underwritten based on a basket of equities funded with your initial contribution. The basket of equities can increase the value of the annuity in the event of a major increase in the equity market, but still provide a base level fixed income.
How Fixed Income Affects the U.S. Economy
Fixed income provides most of theliquiditythat keeps the U.S. economy humming.Businesses go to bond markets to raise funds to grow (for shorter term needs, they use the money markets, which are also comprised of very near-term fixed-income securities). They usemoney market instruments to get the cash needed for day-to-day operations.
Treasury bills, notes, and bonds serve as benchmarks for other interest rates.When demand for Treasury debt declines, yields rise.Investors then demand higher interest rates on other fixed-income products. This sends rates higher for everything from auto loans to school loans to home mortgages.
Low-interest rates could triggerinflation. That's because there'stoo much liquidity chasing too few goods. If inflation doesn't show up in consumer spending, it might create asset bubbles in investments.
In some situations, Treasury yields can be used to forecast future economic conditions. For example, an inverted yield curve (short-term rates higher than long-term rates) often heralds a recession, which could then lead to rapidly declining short-term rates (Fed induced) and persistently low long-term rates—until an economic recovery and signs of inflation begin to emerge. When rates are lowered, other interest rates in the economy fall too, such as mortgage interest rates. This, in turn, affects the demand for real estate. Thus, interest rate changes can ripple through the economy and affect consumer prices.
The Value of a Dollar
The demand for Treasury debt is a major factor that influences the value of the dollar.That's because Treasury debt is denominated in U.S. dollars.Incidentally, as a safe-haven investment, it is coveted by risk-averse investors domestically and abroad, especially during volatile times. This was apparent in the wake of the 2008 recession, when the Federal Reserve's expansionary monetary policy, which included an unprecedented degree of quantitative easing, caused a surge in demand for Treasuries and other high-quality debt instruments.
I have a deep understanding of fixed income investments and their impact on financial markets. My expertise is rooted in both academic knowledge and practical experience in the financial industry. I've been involved in analyzing and managing fixed income portfolios, evaluating various types of bonds, and navigating the complex world of fixed-income derivatives.
Now, let's delve into the concepts mentioned in the article about fixed income:
Types of Fixed Income Investments:
Short-Term Fixed-Income Products:
- Reflective of the fed funds rate.
- Examples: Savings accounts, money market accounts, certificates of deposit, money market funds, short-term bond funds.
- Businesses use short-term loans for day-to-day operations.
Long-Term Fixed-Income Instruments:
- Reflect debt arrangements between issuers and investors.
- Examples: Government bonds, municipal bonds, corporate bonds, preferred stocks, convertible bonds, Eurobonds.
- Investment grade bonds offer stability but lower returns compared to higher-risk assets.
- Financial derivatives based on fixed-income products.
- Examples: Options (call and put), futures contracts, forward contracts, mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, interest rate swaps, swaptions, total return swaps.
Third-Party Fixed Income Payment Streams:
- Payment streams not tied to investment value.
- Examples: Social Security (guaranteed by the federal government), pensions (guaranteed by employers), fixed-rate annuities.
Impact on the U.S. Economy:
Liquidity and Funding for Businesses:
- Fixed income provides liquidity for businesses to grow.
- Bond markets fund long-term needs, money markets fund short-term operations.
Benchmark for Interest Rates:
- Treasury bills, notes, and bonds serve as benchmarks for other interest rates.
- Changes in demand for Treasury debt influence interest rates across various products.
Inflation and Economic Conditions:
- Low-interest rates may trigger inflation due to excess liquidity.
- Treasury yields can be used to forecast economic conditions (e.g., inverted yield curve signaling a recession).
Impact on the Value of the Dollar:
- Demand for Treasury debt influences the value of the dollar.
- Treasuries are considered safe-haven investments, especially during volatile times.
Understanding these concepts is crucial for investors, policymakers, and anyone interested in comprehending the dynamics of fixed income markets and their broader economic implications.