Effects of Duration in the Current Rate Environment
TOM BUTCHER: Why should investors be concerned about duration?
FRAN RODILOSSO: Investors should always be concerned about duration in a bond or in a portfolio of bonds. Measuring duration is how one measures a bond or bond portfolio’s sensitivity to movements in yield and movements in interest rates.
In today's environment, we're at unprecedentedly low yield levels, particularly in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. The market is anticipating that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is going to make a change in policy. The FOMC has stated its intention to begin hiking rates for the first time since late 2008. In the meantime, we've been stuck at a zero interest rate policy in terms of the federal funds rate target.
There are, however, many other factors to consider, especially when it comes to five-year yields, ten-year yields, or thirty-year yields. Those bond yields may not move in lockstep with how the Federal Reserve (Fed) moves the federal funds rate. In fact, the market shows us that the yield curve should be flattening. It has been flattening, which means the difference, for instance, between ten-year yields and two-year yields has narrowed in recent weeks. Ten-year Treasury yields and thirty-year Treasury yields, however, are far closer to the bottom ends of their ranges over the last five years than they are to the high ends. Since the “taper tantrum” of 2013, they've been even closer to the bottom ends of their ranges than to the high ends of their ranges. I think the market has thus already priced in low inflation expectations, expectations that commodity prices are not going to turn sharply higher, and expectations that tightness in labor markets, particularly in the U.S., is not going to become more extreme than it is now.
BUTCHER: Can you give me an example of what might happen should interest rates start rising?
RODILOSSO: Let’s consider a ten-year U.S. Treasury bond. Today the modified duration of the bond is about 8.8, which means if interest rates rise by 1%, one would expect the bond's price to fall by more than 8%. A ten-year Treasury has a current yield of about 2%. Let’s say in one year the yield on ten-years goes from 2% to 3%. The bond will lose about 8% in price. Actually, it will lose less than 8% in price because duration changes as yield increases. There might then be a 7.5% change in price and a 2% current yield. Over that period, however, total return is -5.5%, which represents a fairly significant loss for a risk-free bond investment. That is the mark-to-market effect if you sell those bonds.
If you own two-year Treasuries, which have a duration of about 1.9, and they go up a full percent higher over the next year, the total return will still be negative, but closer to net -1.5% because the duration on those two-years is much lower. That’s what it means to move down the curve, i.e., shorten your duration and achieve lower sensitivity to interest rates.
Should rates remain low or move even lower from here, however, there are other risks that investors should consider, such as reinvestment risk. If you are all short duration and have no interest rate risk, you'll constantly need to be reinvesting. If rates stay where they are or move higher, it will be good news. But if they're moving lower, you'll be investing at lower interest rates and that's not good news.
The other thing to remember is that duration is not the only risk of your bonds or your bond portfolio. There's credit risk. There's also political risk in emerging markets bonds. There's liquidity risk. Many factors can impact the price of your bonds, your bond fund, or your bond portfolio.
I think in the current context, regardless of whether you believe the Fed will proceed slowly or interest rates will rise rapidly, the risks are still skewed. There could be more damage done to your portfolio by higher rates. The market has priced in a less aggressive Fed and lower inflation expectations. Now is therefore a good time to consider your duration exposure and how you should manage it.
BUTCHER: Is the usefulness of duration measurements predicated on a parallel shift in the yield curve?
RODILOSSO: Duration does work as a measure when shifts are parallel, but it's still a fairly good relative risk measurement in any case. However, it has happened many times before in many different markets that short-term rates have risen as long-term rates have fallen. If that's the case now, looking at duration on your long-term bonds might cause you alarm if the Fed is hiking rates. It’s very important to think about where you are on the curve, i.e., where your exposure is, and how that part of the curve might be moving.
There are various scenarios that can play out over the next 12 months, regardless of whether the Fed starts hiking rates. Something to consider in terms of risks in the bond market is: the Fed has probably lost some credibility this year by not moving in September and by introducing the concept of, to use the Fed’s language, “concern about foreign markets.” A loss of credibility by the Fed could actually cause higher volatility and augment the risk of the U.S. Treasury market, which would ultimately lead to higher yields. If the market perceives that the Fed is behind the curve, i.e., not keeping up with inflationary expectations, the yield curve may steepen; five-year, ten-year, or thirty-year yields may rise much faster than the Fed moves short-term rates. That is not a scenario that anyone seems to be pricing in right now, which may be one small reason to consider it.
BUTCHER: Thank you very much.
- - - - - - - - - -
This content is published in the United States for residents of specified countries. Investors are subject to securities and tax regulations within their applicable jurisdictions that are not addressed on this content. Nothing in this content should be considered a solicitation to buy or an offer to sell shares of any investment in any jurisdiction where the offer or solicitation would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction, nor is it intended as investment, tax, financial, or legal advice. Investors should seek such professional advice for their particular situation and jurisdiction. You can obtain specific information on Van Eck Global strategies by visiting Investment Strategies.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the speaker and are current as of the video’s posting date. Video commentaries are general in nature and should not be construed as investment advice. Opinions are subject to change with market conditions. All performance information is historical and is not a guarantee of future results. For more information about Van Eck Funds, Market Vectors ETFs or fund performance, visit vaneck.com. Any discussion of specific securities mentioned in the video commentaries is neither an offer to sell nor a solicitation to buy these securities. Fund holdings will vary. All indices mentioned are measures of common market sectors and performance. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Information on holdings, performance and indices can be found at vaneck.com. For illustrative purposes only.
Please note that Van Eck Securities Corporation offers investment products that invest in the asset class(es) included in this video. Debt securities carry interest rate and credit risk. Bonds and bond funds will decrease in value as interest rates rise. Debt securities carry interest rate and credit risk. Interest rate risk refers to the risk that bond prices generally fall as interest rates rise and vice versa. Credit risk is the risk of loss on an investment due to the deterioration of an issuer's financial health. High-yield and municipal securities have additional risks. The Funds' underlying securities may be subject to call risk, which may result in the Funds having to reinvest the proceeds at lower interest rates, resulting in a decline in the Funds' income.
Duration is a measure of the sensitivity of the price of a bond to a change in interest rates and is expressed as a number of years. Rising interest rates mean falling bond prices, while declining interest rates mean rising bond prices.
Investing involves substantial risk and high volatility, including possible loss of principal. An investor should carefully consider the investment objective, risks, charges and expenses of the Fund before investing. Bonds and bond funds will decrease in value as interest rates rise. To obtain a prospectus and summary prospectus, which contain this and other information, call 800.826.2333 or visit vaneck.com. Please read the prospectus and summary prospectus carefully before investing.
No part of this material may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission of Van Eck Securities Corporation. © Van Eck Securities Corporation.
Van Eck Securities Corporation, Distributor
666 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017