Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 122

What does the current yield curve tell us?

Introduction

In May this year, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) lowered the official cash rate to 2%. This move ushered in the lowest interest rate environment since 1959 when the money market was established in Australia. People often ask if it is worth investing in fixed income assets with a long horizon, such as annuities and long bond investments. There is a sense that ‘rates will have to rise’ and so people assume that it makes sense to wait.

In practice though, this is not always the case. A range of factors determine interest rates, and the yield curve already reflects expectations of the future. In many cases, even if the rate looks low, not waiting will be the best strategy.

The yield curve

The yield curve is a series of market prices for interest rate-linked securities that have been plotted to create a smooth curve. The securities on the curve range from short-dated deposits to longer maturity bonds. Typically, the curve slopes upwards: it rises, with the longer maturities reflecting the ‘term premium’ that a lender or investor demands for having money tied up for longer.

The yield curve is the market’s best view of expected changes to future interest rates. All around the world, highly motivated traders, analysts and investors are making decisions about the likely movements of interest rates for up to 30 years into the future. If those market participants think, for example, that interest rates are going up in 2017, you would already be able to see higher yields in the prices at the relevant part of the yield curve. Let’s have a look at what the current yield curve is saying.

The chart below shows the market forecast for interest rates based on Australian government bonds with maturities out to 2037. The curve initially descends, then is flat for a while, but eventually slopes upwards. What the curve shows is that the market is saying: “We don’t think interest rates are going up before 2017 and they are likely to remain below 4%.”

The role of long dated assets in times of low interest rates

In the accumulation stage, fixed interest assets are used primarily to minimise losses when markets fall. Low returns don’t change the need to manage risk and long-dated assets provide that benefit. Investors in a low rate environment might need to take on more risk, elsewhere in the portfolio, to reach their targets, but the risk-reducing role of bonds remains. Also, low rates will not affect the yield to maturity of a fixed income asset held to term, regardless of what the ‘mark-to-market’ might look like.

In retirement, long dated bonds and annuities are used to generate secure income, not just reduce risk, so the return should matter. Putting aside the option to take more risk, the question is can a retiree generate more secure income by avoiding long dated fixed interest assets?

Is it better to wait?

One of the problems with low rates is that people remember when rates were much higher. What they forget is that interest rates don’t operate in a vacuum. High rates are generally accompanied by other negative factors and externalities, often a breakout of inflation. It would be like remembering that great hot summer from your childhood spent almost entirely at the beach, while forgetting that it was actually a really severe drought. There are great stories about ‘someone’s uncle’ who bought an annuity in the early 1990s when rates were high. In hindsight, that was a great time to buy any long term interest rate-sensitive asset, but many other aspects of the economy at that time were potentially harmful to investors. Government bonds were over 13% and the Reserve Bank was yet to adopt an inflation target of 2-3%. Rates are unlikely to get back to those levels (without an explosion in inflation), but it is tempting to think that waiting until they get to 6% might be a good bet.

The problem with this way of thinking is that you might be waiting a very long time. Japan’s history, for instance, shows us that rate movements are never a one-way bet. Yields continued to fall after the 1989 Nikkei collapse and cash rates have been 1% or lower in Japan for 20 years. The key drivers for low rates have been continuing low inflation (and deflation) and the demographics of an ageing population. The rest of the developed world is facing these conditions now.

Anyone waiting for higher rates can expect higher income down the track. This is exactly what the yield curve tells us. Instead of the 2% rate now, interest rates are expected to go above 4% in the future. But, waiting for interest rates to rise often means you lose out overall; you spend too long holding lower yielding short-term assets like cash and you are trying to ‘time the market’. When rates increase in line with the expectations in the yield curve, the total income payments received are often less than a single longer term investment.

A role for low-yielding assets

The low rate environment is likely to be here for a while. Retirees still need a secure income stream, even if rates are low. Without simply rolling the dice and taking on more risk through investing in more volatile investments, retirees can benefit from buying low-yielding, long-dated assets now, rather than waiting and hoping that rates rise more than the market currently expects.

 

Aaron Minney is Head of Retirement Income Research at Challenger Limited. This article is for general educational purposes and does not consider the specific needs of any investor.

 

RELATED ARTICLES

On interest rates and credit, do you feel the need for speed?

Income-seekers: these 'myths' could come back to haunt you

Rising interest rates and the impact on banks

banner

Most viewed in recent weeks

Is it better to rent or own a home under the age pension?

With 62% of Australians aged 65 and over relying at least partially on the age pension, are they better off owning their home or renting? There is an extra pension asset allowance for those not owning a home.

Too many retirees miss out on this valuable super fund benefit

With 700 Australians retiring every day, retirement income solutions are more important than ever. Why do millions of retirees eligible for a more tax-efficient pension account hold money in accumulation?

Is the fossil fuel narrative simply too convenient?

A fund manager argues it is immoral to deny poor countries access to relatively cheap energy from fossil fuels. Wealthy countries must recognise the transition is a multi-decade challenge and continue to invest.

Reece Birtles on selecting stocks for income in retirement

Equity investing comes with volatility that makes many retirees uncomfortable. A focus on income which is less volatile than share prices, and quality companies delivering robust earnings, offers more reassurance.

Superannuation: a 30+ year journey but now stop fiddling

Few people have been closer to superannuation policy over the years than Noel Whittaker, especially when he established his eponymous financial planning business. He takes us on a quick guided tour.

Comparing generations and the nine dimensions of our well-being

Using the nine dimensions of well-being used by the OECD, and dividing Australians into Baby Boomers, Generation Xers or Millennials, it is surprisingly easy to identify the winners and losers for most dimensions.

Latest Updates

Superannuation

Superannuation: a 30+ year journey but now stop fiddling

Few people have been closer to superannuation policy over the years than Noel Whittaker, especially when he established his eponymous financial planning business. He takes us on a quick guided tour.

Survey: share your retirement experiences

All Baby Boomers are now over 55 and many are either in retirement or thinking about a transition from work. But what is retirement like? Is it the golden years or a drag? Do you have tips for making the most of it?

Interviews

Time for value as ‘promise generators’ fail to deliver

A $28 billion global manager still sees far more potential in value than growth stocks, believes energy stocks are undervalued including an Australian company, and describes the need for resilience in investing.

Superannuation

Paul Keating's long-term plans for super and imputation

Paul Keating not only designed compulsory superannuation but in the 30 years since its introduction, he has maintained the rage. Here are highlights of three articles on SG's origins and two more recent interviews.

Fixed interest

On interest rates and credit, do you feel the need for speed?

Central bank support for credit and equity markets is reversing, which has led to wider spreads and higher rates. But what does that mean and is it time to jump at higher rates or do they have some way to go?

Investment strategies

Death notices for the 60/40 portfolio are premature

Pundits have once again declared the death of the 60% stock/40% bond portfolio amid sharp declines in both stock and bond prices. Based on history, balanced portfolios are apt to prove the naysayers wrong, again.

Exchange traded products

ETFs and the eight biggest worries in index investing

Both passive investing and ETFs have withstood criticism as their popularity has grown. They have been blamed for causing bubbles, distorting the market, and concentrating share ownership. Are any of these criticisms valid?

Sponsors

Alliances

© 2022 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer
The data, research and opinions provided here are for information purposes; are not an offer to buy or sell a security; and are not warranted to be correct, complete or accurate. Morningstar, its affiliates, and third-party content providers are not responsible for any investment decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the data and analyses or their use. Any general advice or ‘regulated financial advice’ under New Zealand law has been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892) and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. For more information refer to our Financial Services Guide (AU) and Financial Advice Provider Disclosure Statement (NZ). You should consider the advice in light of these matters and if applicable, the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision to invest. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product’s future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a professional financial adviser. Articles are current as at date of publication.
This website contains information and opinions provided by third parties. Inclusion of this information does not necessarily represent Morningstar’s positions, strategies or opinions and should not be considered an endorsement by Morningstar.

Website Development by Master Publisher.