July 30 2014
Anchors aweigh! Put thoughts of the Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly movie aside. If the Naval Academy fight song is playing in your head, tune it out. The anchors being raised here are setting adrift perceptions that government bonds are always low risk investments.
Behavioral finance – a field of study that looks at behavioral and cognitive psychology in tandem with conventional economics and finance to explain why investors do what they do – tells us investors have been known to make decisions based on faulty reasoning. In some cases, they tend to classify new information based on experience or knowledge.
For instance, people who adhere to the idea U.S. government bonds are low-risk investments might be inclined to take in stride the news that geopolitical tensions pushed bond yields lower during the past two weeks. Who cares that yields are at a low for the year? Government bonds are not risky investments, right?
Not necessarily. While it’s true that U.S. Treasury bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, they are still subject to the unpredictable changes in the markets. One thing to remember is interest rates and bond prices interact like children on a seesaw. When interest rates go down, bond prices go up. When interest rates go up, bond prices go down. Bond prices generally have been going up since the early 1980s and rates are currently at very low levels. As economies recover and rates start to rise again, bond prices are likely to fall and could have a negative effect on the value of portfolios holding government bonds, particularly those with longer durations.
Bond yields have stayed low during recent years largely because of Federal Reserve monetary policy. President of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis James Bullard recently said there is a mismatch between our macroeconomic goals and the stance of monetary policy. While this mismatch is not currently causing problems for the economy, it may in the future. This week, Fed officials are expected to discuss when and how to begin lifting rates from near zero – a level they’ve been at since 2008.
- Data as of 7/25/141- WeekY-T-D1-Year3-Year5-Year10-Year
- Standard & Poor’s 500 (Domestic Stocks)0.0%7.0%17.0%0.13915.0%6.2%
- 10-year Treasury Note (Yield Only)2.5N/A2.63.03.74.5
- Gold (per ounce) -0.9 7.8-2.4-7.16.312.7
- DJ-UBS Commodity Index0.02.81.2-7.70.9-1.1
- DJ Equity All REIT TR Index-0.717.810.710.921.79.9