Should You Own Bonds?

Long-term interest rates are near historic lows. In 1981, rates peaked at 15.32%; today, they’re 1.37% – a drop of 91%. The yield on the US 10-Year Treasury Note is currently 1.3%, and the inflation rate is 4.99%, so if you bought a bond today, your real rate of return is negative 3.69%. Negative interest rates aren’t too compelling.

Investors buy bonds for income and safety, especially in retirement, as stocks are considered risky investments. Bondholders have enjoyed generous returns since 1981 as interest rates fell because when interest rates drop, bond prices rise. For example, if you buy a 30-year bond for $100 paying 5%, and interest rates fall to 2%, the price of your bond would soar to $229. Bond fund managers have enjoyed a one-way trade for the past forty years, but now that rates are near all-time lows, is the party finished? And if the party is over, does it make sense to own bonds in your portfolio?

In 1982 bond prices soared 40%. It was the beginning of the end for bondholders; it just wasn’t evident yet. If bonds continue paying real negative rates, are they safe? When interest rates start to rise, bond prices will fall. For every 1% interest rates rise, the price of a 30-year bond will lose 16%.

However, don’t be quick to jettison your bonds. During the lost decade of 2000, bonds outperformed stocks by nearly 90%. Vanguard’s Total Bond Index rose 80%, while the S&P 500 lost 10%. Bonds can add protection to your account when stocks crash. If you have a balanced portfolio, you can sell your bonds to buy stocks. For the most part, bonds and stocks are negatively correlated – when one rises, the other falls.

Also, adding bonds to your investment accounts will lower your risk level. According to Riskalyze, a 100% stock portfolio dropped 53.1% during the Great Recession, whereas a portfolio consisting of 60% stocks and 40% bonds fell 34.2%, or 36% less than the all-stock portfolio. So, if you want to reduce risk in your portfolio, add bonds.

Most of us already own a substantial bond portfolio in the form of Social Security. For example, if you receive $24,000 in annual benefits, this is equivalent to owning a $2.4 million bond portfolio if interest rates are 1%. Also, your Social Security benefits increase with the cost of living. Last year the adjustment was 1.3%, and in 2022 it may climb 6.1% – the most in forty years![1] If you consider Social Security as part of your portfolio, it reduces the need to own bonds.

Few people have the stomach to handle an all-stock portfolio, especially during challenging market environments like the crash of 1987, the Tech Wreck, the Great Recession, or the Covid Correction. It’s easy to hold stocks when they rise 10% to 20% per year, not so much when they fall 40% or 50%. When investors are scared, and fear is high, they sell stocks to buy bonds. As they say, anybody can sail a ship when the seas are calm.  

I still recommend diversified portfolios because no one knows which asset class will perform well in any given year. Diversifying your assets across sectors is still a prudent strategy, but think about reducing your bond allocation if you’re a long-term investor with diamond hands and a strong stomach.

“Confronting a storm is like fighting God. All the powers in the universe seem to be against you and, in an extraordinary way, your irrelevance is at the same time both humbling and exalting.” ―Francis LeGrande

July 14, 2021

Bill Parrott, CFP®, is the President and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management in Austin, Texas. Parrott Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary, registered investment advisor firm. Our goal is to remove complexity, confusion, and worry from the investment and financial planning process so our clients can pursue a life of purpose. Our firm does not have an asset or fee minimum, and we work with anybody who needs financial help regardless of age, income, or asset level. PWM’s custodian is TD Ameritrade, and our annual fee starts at .5% of your assets and drops depending on the level of your assets.

Note: Investments are not guaranteed and do involve risk. Your returns may differ from those posted in this blog. PWM is not a tax advisor, nor do we give tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor for items that are specific to your situation. Options involve risk and aren’t suitable for every investor.

[1], Aimee Picchi, July 13, 2021

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