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Inflation linked bonds

Question from Douglas

Do long dated inflation linked bonds help the investor in a rising interest rate environment?


Answer from Elizabeth Moran, Director of Education and Fixed Income Research, FIIG Securities

The simple answer is yes, insofar as the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) uses its control of interest rates as its primary mechanism to control inflation, so interest rates should only rise if inflation is rising.

Principal and interest on inflation linked bonds are linked to inflation (as measured by the Consumer Price Index, or CPI), so the value of these assets will increase as inflation rises.

As an example, the Sydney Airport Finance capital index bond maturing in November 2020 is currently yielding a quarterly coupon of CPI plus 4.65%. If CPI averages 2.50% (which is the middle of the RBA target band) over the remaining life of the bond, this bond will yield 7.15%. However, if inflation rises at some stage over the life of the bond, and averages 3.50% over that period, that directly translates into an additional 1% annual return on the bond, increasing the yield to 8.15%.

Warren Bird
December 10, 2013

The more complex answer is that it depends on your time frame. Inflation linked bonds, like nominal bonds, fall in price for a while when yields rise. Whatsmore, inflation-linked bonds are longer duration* than nominal bonds of the same final maturity date, so the capital price impact is going to be greater.

Of course, as I harp on about a lot, for an investor in a portfolio of bonds who correctly looks at their investment for a time horizon similar to the duration of the portfolio, this needn't put you off. The rising real yield means that maturing linkers can get reinvested into the market at those higher real yields. A fall in bond prices is never permanent - every inflation linked bond will mature at an inflation-adjusted value of 100.

But if you have a shorter term time horizon than that, then inflation linked bonds might not be suitable for capital preservation. Every investor is different and needs to talk to their planner about their needs.

It's possible for nominal yields to rise while the real yield on an indexed bond to remain unchanged. That happens when the market simply pushes up bond yields because of higher inflation expectations. That's a great outcome for holders of inflation linked bonds as they get a lift in the nominal value of their assets and their interest payments due to the higher inflation. But it's rare and usually you get some increase in the real yield as well when nominal yields rise.

In the current climate the big fear that many people have is that real yields will return to 'normal' (whatever that is these days!) In which case, most of any increase in market yields is likely to be almost fully reflected in real yields. This has already happened to some extent over the past year or so as bond yields have risen from their very, very low levels of mid-2012. Inflation linked bonds have pretty much fully reflected this increase, and the longer duration means that their total return has been well below that of nominal bonds.

I don't want any of that to put people off buying inflation-linked bonds, because they are a suitable investment for many long term portfolios. But please do understand that there's more to them than just 'inflation up, bond value and interest up', so that you aren't surprised or disappointed at the short term fluctuations.

There are a few brokers around, like Curve Securities or FIIG, who can source Sydney Airport inflation linked bonds, and other fixed interest assets for clients who have 'wholesale' amounts of money to invest.

* see my Cuffelinks article for an explanation of duration risk. It's not as scary as many think!

December 09, 2013


How do i buy into Sydney Airport Finance capital index bond? are these Bonds registered in ASX??

thanks heaps!


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