Excess Cash? Try One Of These 5 Bond Strategies

By Elizabeth Moran | More Articles by Elizabeth Moran

Just now we are hearing many fund managers suggest the sharemarket has become expensive — at the same time cash deposits continue to pay very low returns.

Despite lifts in commercial mortgage rates, a one-year term deposit from a major bank is paying only about 2.4 per cent per annum.

Many Australian investors hold too much in cash and too much in shares, overlooking bonds that sit between these two assets classes in terms of risk and reward. Typically, an Australian corporate bond portfolio will provide 1-3 percent per annum over term deposit rates throughout the economic cycle, and with greater certainty than shares.

If you are concerned about another major stress event, there are bond strategies that work to preserve capital but also deliver much needed higher returns. Here are five possible strategies:

1.   Invest in short dated bonds with less than 18 months to maturity

If there is 18 months or less until maturity, there is greater certainty that the company is still going to operate at maturity of the bond and, as an investor, you will have capital repaid to you. While credit risk – the risk that a company may default on interest or principal – still exists, you will earn higher returns when compared to deposits.

Three bonds with less than a year until expected maturity include childcare provider, G8 Education, AMP Bank and Downer Group. G8 Education is a non-rated, higher risk floating rate bond expected to provide a yield to maturity of 4.6 per cent.  The AMP bond has a call date at the end of the year, and while this is the date we expect investors will be repaid, it could be extended for a further five years. Returns typically range between 3 and 5.75 per cent per annum for these corporate bonds.

2.   Invest in short dated, highly rated floating rate bonds

This is a common tactic for large corporations and middle market investors such as charities and schools. Floating rate bonds pay interest linked to a benchmark, which is adjusted quarterly. This largely removes interest rate risk, associated with rising interest rates.

Institutional investors would typically invest in the highly rated, highly liquid bonds from major banks and other very strong corporations. For example, an Australian dollar denominated bond by global IT company Apple, which matures in August 2019 has a yield to maturity of 2 per cent per annum. All of the major banks are common issuers of senior unsecured bonds. National Australia Bank has a senior floating rate bond maturing in three years with an expected yield to maturity of 2.38 per cent per annum.

3.   Take a three year view

Three years is still a relative short term view in bond markets. There are around 40 bonds available from $10,000 per bond in this category that are both fixed and floating, investment grade and non investment grade. There are many more in higher minimum denominations.

Yields available range from just over 3 per cent per annum for a Qantas fixed rate bond to 6.8 per cent per annum for out of favour Adani Abbott Point Coal Terminal. The coal terminal was previously owned by the Queensland State government and has been in operation for more than 30 years.

4.   Use a mix of corporate bonds with staggered maturity dates to earn higher returns than deposits and match your anticipated cash flow needs with the bond maturities

In this way, you can use a number of bonds to generate required yields over a five year term.

5.   Invest in Australian Commonwealth government bonds issued when interest rates were higher four or five years ago

These are fixed rate bonds that have risen in price from when they were issued because of the high, fixed rate of interest that they pay, which cannot be changed over the life of the bond.

For example, there is a Commonwealth government fixed rate bond due to mature in July 2022, around five years from now. It has a very low yield to maturity of 1.85 per cent per annum, which isn’t very attractive. When it was first issued, interest rates were higher and so it pays a fixed rate of 5.75%, per $100 face value until maturity. The bond price has risen to around $119 and the yield to maturity, based on the higher purchase price has declined.

However, annual income on this bond is still high at about 4.8 per cent per annum based on the $119 purchase price. If you are of the view interest rates will be fairly stagnant in the coming year or two, you could invest in the bond for a short term and tap into the higher income with the intention to sell in 12-24 months. There is some risk in this strategy as prices move daily and many factors influence prices, but if, as markets expect, we are in for a relatively stable interest rate regime, this could be a strategy to consider.

Source: FIIG Securities
Prices accurate as at 6 June 2017 but subject to change

Elizabeth Moran

About Elizabeth Moran

Elizabeth Moran is a director of education and fixed income at Brisbane-based bond broker, FIIG Securities. She is a specialist on the bond market and regularly presents at conferences across Australia.

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