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Why Buy A Bond Fund?

Index tracking funds and ETFs
Finao
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Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#289435

Postby Finao » March 9th, 2020, 4:20 pm

I've been invested in individual shares for a number of years but have been in cash for a while having sold all my individual holdings a while back. To make things easy I would like to invest in index tracking funds for the equity side of my portfolio with a bond fund for some asset allocation. However, I've never really taken any notice of bonds and how that market works.

I've done some studying around the subject of late but I am still confused. At the moment with the stock markets dropping, bonds prices are rising which I presume makes them less attractive especially with yields going South as well. However, as far as I can tell, even when the stock markets were pushing new highs of late, bonds were still supposed to be expensive.

What I really want to get a feel for is when are bonds reasonable value and when is a good time to buy? I also don't understand why bonds or bond funds on such a low yield should be more attractive than say cash in a cash ISA even with comparable low yield rates there also.

GeoffF100
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#289449

Postby GeoffF100 » March 9th, 2020, 5:09 pm

Bonds are expensive, but so are equities. You will be jolly glad if you were in bonds recently.

A cash ISA is clearly more attractive than a short term bond fund, but cash ISAs are not available to wholesale investors. Cash ISA bonds usually have a short duration. Their value does not rise when the equity markets fall.

JohnW
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#291445

Postby JohnW » March 17th, 2020, 1:01 am

I think deciding whether bonds are reasonable value, and a good time to buy, are similar to the same questions for shares. It depends partly on where you are on life’s journey, how your current assets are distributed, future spending needs etc for a long list.
But to the extent that it depends on their price, return, yield etc at the moment, I’d suggest firstly that we won’t know until later. Are shares expensive now? Not if they turn out to drop another 10% and then rise at 8%/yr for the next 20 years. But people are hesitant to buy, so they must think they’re a bit expensive. But does anyone actually know?
Secondly, if there was any useful method we could use to answer your questions, a bunch of people would know the method (and it doesn’t need to be a big bunch), then they’d apply the method, and buy or sell those bonds depending on whether this useful method said bonds were dear or cheap. After all that buying or selling the bonds would no longer be dear or cheap, they’d be accurately priced because the buying and selling would have moved the price. And I think that’s where we always are when you operate in a pretty efficient market which we have by regulation, custom etc, meaning there is no small group who can take advantage of pricing ‘errors’ - and if there were they wouldn’t be describing it on this forum.
If you want to get a better handle on bonds try these books, either reading the free sections that are online, getting from your local library, or buying:
Thau’s The Bond Book; van Ness’ Why Bother with Bonds; Swedroe’s The only guide to a winning bond strategy.
And try: https://www.which.co.uk/money/investing ... s643q0n4qy
https://www.bogleheads.org/wiki/Bond_basics
https://www.bogleheads.org/wiki/Individ ... _bond_fund

Good luck.

xxd09
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#291529

Postby xxd09 » March 17th, 2020, 10:06 am

Bonds are your balance to Equities in a Portfolio
Equities provide growth but are volatile and risky
Bonds provide stability and low growth
A rough guide is you should have your age in Bonds in a balanced portfolio
Current times show this effect well
If you like index trackers (Bonds and Equities) then Lars Kroijer book-Investing Demystifed-is good plus his web site.Monevator.com plus John Bogles books are also worthwhile
xxd09

1nvest
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#291654

Postby 1nvest » March 17th, 2020, 3:38 pm

Finao wrote:What I really want to get a feel for is when are bonds reasonable value and when is a good time to buy? I also don't understand why bonds or bond funds on such a low yield should be more attractive than say cash in a cash ISA even with comparable low yield rates there also.

Cash stuffed in a mattress currently (time of writing FT100 5184) buys 45% more FT100 shares than at the start of the year. At other times cash in a mattress loses out relative to had it been deposited/invested in safe/stable returns (bonds/cash ISA) so it makes sense to get a return than have no return on that cash. Paramount however is that it is liquid (available) when you need it (near instant access). Fixed term cash bonds often have early withdrawal clauses/penalties. Traded bonds are more readily available to be sold and the proceeds used wherever.

When you move to longer dated bonds (that are still liquid), the price volatility increases. Typically as bond yields rise so bond prices decline and vice-versa. Investors who opine that yields may decline will see capital gains if that comes to fruition (or they'll see declines in capital value if bond yields rise). Predicting whether yields will rise or fall is no different to speculating on whether stock prices will rise or fall, there is no clear certainty. So there's no clear indicator of when bonds are priced to reasonable values.

Simply by setting target weightings for each asset and periodically rebalancing back to those target weightings is the easiest method to 'trade' stocks and bonds. Some investors hold a barbell of both short term bonds and long dated bonds (maybe cash ISA combined with a 20 year gilt in equal measure), others opt for a bond bullet, central 10 year bond fund. As to how much to weight stock and bond is a personal preference, some go with 50/50, others 67/33 ...etc.

Stocks broadly are like a 1.5x leveraged holding. Corporate debt (bonds) compares to 50% of stock book values. Leverage just tends to see similar broader rewards but having endured more volatility along the way. 67/33 stock/bonds in effects de-leverages stocks down to 1x. But the leveraged asset will tend to zigzag around that (or dip down to it periodically). At those times, that may be decades into the investment period, there were no difference in portfolio values at that time.

US data https://tinyurl.com/re4elex

Note from that link that using a barbell of short term treasury and long dated treasury was (near as) no different to having held a 10 year bond bullet. Also note how periodically 100% dipped back down to compare to the 67/33 stock/bond growth line.

GeoffF100
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#292085

Postby GeoffF100 » March 18th, 2020, 6:29 pm

Bonds are now taking a hammering too:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51921922

xxd09
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#292091

Postby xxd09 » March 18th, 2020, 6:51 pm

Bonds will go down in the sort of volatile market that we have at the moment but not anywhere near to
the extent of equities so the main duty of the Bonds is done ie to preserve the value of the portfolio
That is what bonds there to do!
xxd09

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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#292169

Postby GoSeigen » March 19th, 2020, 6:42 am

1nvest wrote:
Note from that link that using a barbell of short term treasury and long dated treasury was (near as) no different to having held a 10 year bond bullet. Also note how periodically 100% dipped back down to compare to the 67/33 stock/bond growth line.


I've left it a long time before saying, but good to have you back 1nvest! Missed your asset allocation posts when you were gone.

GS

1nvest
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#292821

Postby 1nvest » March 21st, 2020, 7:36 am

xxd09 wrote:Bonds will go down in the sort of volatile market that we have at the moment but not anywhere near to the extent of equities so the main duty of the Bonds is done ie to preserve the value of the portfolio. That is what bonds there to do!
xxd09

Subjective. If bonds lag stock over a period then that drag factor can be larger than the 'large loss' that stocks might subsequently endure. Neither are bonds ideal at preserving value. Take a yearly inflation adjusted 3.3% of start date portfolio value from bonds (SWR drawdown) and those bonds might not even last 20 years (costs and taxes play a important role here).

All stock or all bonds could be the optimal choice, more often its some blend of both between those two extremes - a dynamic (varying) level that only history will indicate as having been the ideal choice. The longer term historic optimum average is something around 67/33 stock/bond for the best risk-adjusted reward. For the last century+ a 67/33 stock/10 year gilt blend was a better 'bond' like choice for drawdown across all 50 year periods. In the worst case that had more surplus remaining after 2% SWR than either all bonds or all stock.

In having seen inflation rage in the 1970's/1980's and then progressively broadly decline since, those progressively lower yields has installed a impression that stocks and bonds do (very) well. Lower/declining yields = higher prices. In other cases of history stocks and bonds (and blends of) have lagged inflation over 20+ year periods, down a third type declines relative to total returns (assuming dividends/interest was all fully reinvested). Those periods tend to align with where interest rates tended to rise. From where we are at present, historic very low interest rates/inflation, it should not be assumed that post 1970's to present rates of returns are the 'normal'. More a case of relatively high valuations (wealth) should look to be preserved - such as by shifting to the shorter end of bond maturity, where rolling bonds can see capital value preserved and being rolled into higher interest rates. Post 1970's and 80/20 stock/longer dated bonds was likely better than the broader 67/33 stock/10 year bond 'average'. In forward time 50/50 stock/short dated bonds may serve you better than that 67/33 average. Not so much a case of bonds preserving the value of the portfolio, but rather the right blend and choice of stock/bonds for the prevailing conditions at the time.

More often you'll see the plug that stocks reward more than bonds. To some extent that can be a illusion. Stocks tend to follow a saw-tooth progression, smaller more prolonged upward sloping, periodic more rapid large spikes down. The arithmetic average of gains is positively biased, 6% real gains for 9 years, followed by a 40% decline in the 10th year and near-as you're back to 0% gain/loss. Measure a sample of the 9 good years and you may be tempted to believe stocks yield a 6% rate of return, the median average across all 10 also suggests 6%; Measure the arithmetic average and its 1.4%; Whilst the compounded actual = 0%.

The right choice at the right time can achieve fantastic rewards. Take mattress cash at the start of this year for instance, with stocks down -33% that mattress cash buys 50% more shares now than at the start of the year. In stock purchase power terms cash is having a great year so far. In other cases what can even seem daft holdings can reap rewards. When yields were low long dated gilts for instance were shrugged off by many, yet when yields declined further the price appreciation of those bonds were large. Timing such assets/moves however is fraught with difficulties/risk, so many simply opt to target a asset allocation and periodically rebalance back to that target asset allocation, which in part partakes of those moves via a simple 'mechanical' means. For instance as stocks are the better performing asset in two thirds of years then 67% weight stock and split the rest equally between cash (shorter dated gilts) and long dated gilts (20+ years). Which is no different than combining the short/long dated bonds into a 10 year bullet. Possibly revising your target weightings for stocks and bonds up and down over time as you deem to be appropriate (if stocks have had a great run, then reduce 67/33 down to 50/50; If stocks have endured a terrible time then revise to 80/20 ... or whatever).

GS wrote:good to have you back
Thanks

xxd09
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#292842

Postby xxd09 » March 21st, 2020, 10:10 am

You are right that over the very long term Bonds and Equities can perform equally well
However this effect is not practical for investors who only have their lifetimes (50 years investing)
If one could read the future and market time then investing would be different
However we are where we are with the imperfect investing instruments that we have
I would suggest that 2 year living expenses in cash
Your age in Bonds( Government) as a % of your Portfolio
A Global Equities Index Tracker and a Global Bond Index Tracker hedged to the Pound -2 funds only
This would see most people through to a worthwhile retirement
Certainly would provide a sound base for riding out downturns and could be tweaked if one wishes to as more investing knowledge acquired
xxd09

1nvest
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#292986

Postby 1nvest » March 21st, 2020, 6:11 pm

xxd09 wrote:I would suggest that 2 year living expenses in cash
Your age in Bonds( Government) as a % of your Portfolio
A Global Equities Index Tracker and a Global Bond Index Tracker hedged to the Pound -2 funds only
This would see most people through to a worthwhile retirement
Certainly would provide a sound base for riding out downturns and could be tweaked if one wishes to as more investing knowledge acquired
xxd09

50/50 is a common choice. Review/rebalance back to target weightings once/year. Equal split across FT100, FT250, S&P500 for the stock half, 'bond' side - a equal split of ... building society 5 year ladder of fixed rate bonds, not exceeding the protected amounts, 25 year gilt and stick with that until its 15 years away from maturity and then switch over to another 25 year gilt, gold. One of those will usually pop 20%+ to the upside each year. 2% SWR, with discretionary additional income drawn (top slice real gains into a cash deposit account after good years, and draw income from that as you see fit/need).

Even the FT250 has around 50% of its earnings sourced from foreign business activities, 70% for the FT100. S&P500 is also global. FT250 also is comprised of 20% Investment Trusts. Splitting across three stock indexes that might individually hold 10% weighting in a single stock is a form of creating more of a equal weighted stock index set (not too much in any one stock). And excepting 15% US dividend withholding tax, you avoid such withholding taxes that on average are around 30%. Costs and taxes can make significant differences in overall outcomes.

Negative nominal years are infrequent, and relatively small when they do occur, typically less than -10%. 2008 for instance was -9% (compensated by 2009 providing a +19%).

ChrisNix
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#296677

Postby ChrisNix » April 1st, 2020, 7:04 pm

xxd09 wrote:You are right that over the very long term Bonds and Equities can perform equally well
However this effect is not practical for investors who only have their lifetimes (50 years investing)
If one could read the future and market time then investing would be different
However we are where we are with the imperfect investing instruments that we have
I would suggest that 2 year living expenses in cash
Your age in Bonds( Government) as a % of your Portfolio
A Global Equities Index Tracker and a Global Bond Index Tracker hedged to the Pound -2 funds only
This would see most people through to a worthwhile retirement
Certainly would provide a sound base for riding out downturns and could be tweaked if one wishes to as more investing knowledge acquired
xxd09


Not the case over long time periods. But can be over say, 20 years. On the corporate pension funds, we used to have next 12 years' cash flows, net of last year's dividends, cash flow matched with bonds, with the rest equities, with some diversification. Each year if equities were good we sold some and extended the no. of years cash flow matching. To really make things low risk, a big scheme could hedge out bond reinvestment risk with derivatives.

In personal terms such an approach would see one's portfolio stating with no bonds under 30 and 100% bonds by, say, 80.

If using a bond tracker, I'd choose one with a duration of 5 - 10 years.

Long bonds are very risk if one has any belief in reversion to the mean. In particular, a bout of decent inflation would decimate them.

xxd09
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#296710

Postby xxd09 » April 1st, 2020, 7:58 pm

Only ever run my own fund for last 30 years(now 73) so inexperienced
Would never go below 30% equities in my portfolio
All bonds are 7-10 years duration plus a few corporates- actual choice left to Vanguard
Using their Global Bond Index Fund hedged to the Pound (VIGBBD) as my only a Bond fund
Seems to have done the business -so far!
xxd09

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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#296723

Postby ChrisNix » April 1st, 2020, 8:23 pm

xxd09 wrote:Only ever run my own fund for last 30 years(now 73) so inexperienced
Would never go below 30% equities in my portfolio
All bonds are 7-10 years duration plus a few corporates- actual choice left to Vanguard
Using their Global Bond Index Fund hedged to the Pound (VIGBBD) as my only a Bond fund
Seems to have done the business -so far!
xxd09


By an large a pretty good time to have been a bond manager!

1nvest
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Re: Why Buy A Bond Fund?

#297075

Postby 1nvest » April 2nd, 2020, 4:54 pm

ChrisNix wrote:Long bonds are very risk if one has any belief in reversion to the mean. In particular, a bout of decent inflation would decimate them.

A short dated (1 to 3 year)/long dated (20 year) barbell (equal £ amounts of both), will tend to reflect a central 10 year bond bullet https://tinyurl.com/tnq7htr but has the addition of optionality. If stocks drop and you're looking to reduce bonds to add to stock then the long dated may have seen sizeable price appreciation such that you might opt to sell the longer dated end to add to stock. Or if both long dated and stocks are down then you might instead opt to reduce the shorter dated holdings to add to stock (and long dated bonds).

Low, even marginally negative real yields for longer dated bonds will as you say price dive if/when nominal/real yields turn sharply positive, but can also see price rise if/when nominal/real yields turn even more negative/down.

Similar holds for gold. During the 1990's for example the price of gold declined, but if combined 50/50 with stocks and yearly rebalanced you ended up with more ounces of gold in your safe and where the increase in ounces pretty much balanced the price decline in gold. Looked at in isolation and individual assets can look like poor choices, whilst when combined as part of a rebalanced portfolio reveals a different picture.


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