At some point - perhaps soon - the Federal Reserve will stop raising interest rates, a decision that is bound to add to the allure of bonds, because bond prices rise as rates fall.
To cater to the potential growing demand for information, Larry E. Swedroe and Joseph H. Hempen, principals at Buckingham Asset Management, an investment firm based in St. Louis, have put together an excellent primer: "The Only Guide to a Winning Bond Strategy You'll Ever Need" (Truman Talley, $25.95)....they cover the bases extremely well. Even better, they lay out a strategy for investing in bonds that will make sense for most people:
-Buy bonds with the highest ratings, or invest in bond mutual funds that do.
-Buy bonds with short to intermediate maturities. "Holding assets with a maturity of about one to two years is the prudent strategy for those investors wishing to maximize the risk-reward relationship," the authors write.
-Avoid buying hybrid securities - like convertible bonds and preferred stocks - because their risks outweigh their potential rewards.
-Don't try to time the market. "Buy and hold" is the safest approach, as with stocks.
Coming up with a bond strategy takes time, but it's time well spent. Because the same instruments that are sold as safe and secure hedges against trouble can bite you if you're holding the wrong kind in the wrong way and interest rates turn.
A couple of St. Louis financial advisers, Larry Swedroe and Joseph Hempen, have written a straightforward book to address all of those choices.
The Only Guide To A Winning Bond Strategy You'll Ever Need, to be published in March by St. Martin's Press, may sound a bit hyperbolic.
But it's notable because at least one of the authors, Swedroe, has a reputation as an exponent of the "you can't beat the market" philosophy and the inexpensive stock index-fund investing that typically goes with it.
He typically tells clients that they shouldn't try to beat the market, but instead should hold diversified portfolios of low-cost stock funds for years and years. So it's worth seeing how such a philosophy would translate to bonds.
..[It] is also informative and direct when it comes to making bond investment choices.
You create wealth with stocks; you preserve it with bonds.
Those of us on the wrong side of 50 are starting to pay more attention to an asset class that just doesn't get the respect it merits: fixed income.
A few weeks back, we noted the recent publication of a Canadian-focused primer on bonds: Hank Cunningham's In Your Best Interest.
I noted such books are rare compared to the glut of material on the more glamorous subject of stocks and equity funds. Barely was the ink dry on that column when another bond book came through the transom, from an author I've read and respected for some time: Larry Swedroe.
Swedroe is one of those indexing evangelists who has made the case for indexing equities in such prior books as What Wall Street Doesn't Want You to Know and The Only Guide to a Winning Investment Strategy You'll Ever Need. (St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001 and 2005).
I guess Larry's that much closer to retirement now because he's about to release his fifth investment book and it's focused on bonds. He has teamed up with partner Joseph Hempen to write The Only Guide to a Winning Bond Strategy You'll Ever Need. The publication date is March 7.
Judging from the endorsement the book got from personal finance writer Jane Bryant Quinn -- "The bond book for our times" -- this one is destined for strong sales. Unlike Cunningham's book, Swedroe's is aimed at American investors. Thus, certain chapters -- like the one on tax-exempt municipal bonds -- aren't of much relevance to Canadian investors. (More's the pity).
Swedroe lists three reasons to include bonds in portfolios: for liquidity to meet unexpected expenses; to reduce portfolio risk; and to create streams of income to meet ongoing expenses.
He then lists the rules of prudent fixed-income investing: buy only investment-grade bonds rated AA or better; avoid long-term bonds by restricting yourself to bonds with maturities that are short- to intermediate-term; avoid trying to guess interest rates or find mispriced securities; avoid hybrid securities such as preferred stocks or convertible bonds; and invest only in low-cost vehicles.
You'll note both the emphasis on low costs and the point about avoiding market timing reinforces Swedroe's long-established indexing bona fides.
Like Cunningham, Swedroe is critical of how brokerage houses price bonds and disclose broker compensation. Swedroe thinks investors should avoid buying individual bonds from banks or brokerage firms because of large invisible mark-ups and because brokers sell mostly what they have in inventory and wish to dispose of.
Swedroe devotes the early chapters to an overview of how the bond market works and the risks that attend it. He scrutinizes how bonds are priced for retail investors and surveys the dominant species inhabiting the fixed income
landscape: government bonds, corporates, international bonds, mortgage-backed securities, money market funds, certificates of deposit (we call these GICs in Canada), and inflation-indexed securities. The latter include U.S. specific iBonds and TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities), versions of which are called real return bonds in Canada.
But the key chapter is the penultimate eleventh one, which explains how to design and construct a fixed-income portfolio. Here Swedroe looks at the pros and cons of owning bonds through mutual funds or exchange-traded funds, holding individual securities directly or owning bonds in separately managed accounts.
Like Cunningham, Swedroe devotes considerable time to laddering bonds with different maturities. This he describe as "a prudent tactical approach to portfolio construction" that both cuts costs and lets investors balance price risk and reinvestment risk. He also looks at tax efficiency and asset location (as opposed to asset allocation) and describes the importance of getting a financial advisor to craft an Investment Policy Statement (IPS). He suggests investors create a separate Fixed-Income IPS that focuses on investment vehicles, average maturities, minimum acceptable credit ratings and maximum allocation to any one type of debt instrument.
In a canned "interview" the publishers include in a press kit, Swedroe says he wrote the book because "fixed income is a neglected investment tool." As I'd noted when I reviewed Cunningham's book, Swedroe says "there are hundreds of books out there on stocks, far fewer available on fixed income." Too many investors overlook the asset class. That's a mistake because "it's an essential part of a healthy investment portfolio." If a portfolio is a stew, bonds should viewed as a main ingredient like potatoes or carrots, rather than just a seasoning.
From a Canadian perspective, I'd argue Swedroe's book is not the only such fixed-income guide an investor needs. But it makes a good complement to the Canadian-oriented In Your Best Interest.
Buy 'em both.
I guess I should have looked at the dates on the comments, and the publication date of the book. All the example use interest rates that haven't been seen since the 2008 collapse. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Rob Graham
Great book!! The author, Mr Swedroe shows an easy a simple way to undestand the bonds investments! I reccoment this book!!Published 13 months ago by mauricio
I was needing to fill in the gaps I had in my investment knowledge. I was especially lacking in the area of bonds. Read morePublished 14 months ago by emrm
This is a great resource to open the often opaque world of personal investing, particularly bonds, to the everyday investor. It is a bit old, but the ideas are tried and true.Published 17 months ago by Alex
I bought this book because I was overwhelmed by the number of options in the bond market. Swedroe breaks down the entire fixed income market into categories and then details the... Read morePublished 17 months ago by History and Science Craig
Gives comprehensive introduction to different types of fixed income assets and strategies, but with many details. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Denise E. Coughlin
I was an institutional fixed income (bond) market professional for over 20 years. The technical information individual investors need to know to operate successfully with... Read morePublished on June 5, 2013 by Steve Kanney
It really is the only book you'll ever need on bonds. As an investor, you need to understand how to use bonds as part of your portfolio, even though they are pretty boring as an... Read morePublished on December 29, 2012 by John Evans
Contains all the essential information about bonds and some caveat emptors about certain types. Out of date as far as CDOs are concerned, based upon the past several scare years. Read morePublished on November 16, 2012 by tree boy