Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 104

Why investors buy bonds at negative yields

Numerous European countries now have short, medium and even long term government bonds issued in local currencies (including Euros) offering investors negative yields, such as Germany, Switzerland, France, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, and even Ireland and Portugal! Why would anyone invest when they receive less back on maturity than the original investment? It’s not for the interest payments – most offer interest coupons of only a fraction of a per cent.

The chart shows yields on 10 year government bonds rising during the 2010-12 ‘PIIGS’ crisis and then declining as Europe slowed into deflation prompting the start of Eurozone ‘quantitative easing’. The PIIGS countries of Spain, Italy and Portugal have experienced dramatic reductions in their borrowing costs. Bond yields fell again in March 2015 in most markets, with the main exceptions being Greece where yields rose as it lurches toward its third bailout or possible Euro exit, and Japan, where yields also rose a little with its money printing efforts and exit from recession.

negative yields

negative yields

European investors are either predicting decades of price deflation ahead, so a buyer could make a positive real return (after negative inflation), as Europe entered deflation late last year. Or they are simply terrified of putting their money anywhere else. They prefer buying loss-making bonds instead of just hiding their money ‘under the bed’ or in a safe at home or in a deposit box at their local bank branch, where they would at least get their money back intact. They seem to prefer the certainty of losing money invested in government debt rather than the remote risk of theft if their homes, banks or countries are invaded and plundered. Switzerland makes sense as a safe haven for Europeans, but Germany? Germans tried to conquer Europe by military force three times in the past 150 years!

With yields so low, investors are accepting longer and longer terms in the search for yield, fuelling a boom in multi-decade sovereign and corporate debt. On 10 March 2015 the UK government issued 53 year bonds at an incredibly low 2.62% yield as the UK enters deflation.

It is correct that most government bonds in the world (including Australia) are trading at a premium to par so investors who buy them now are guaranteed to make a capital loss. And that's if the government pays which it probably will, although Australia has defaulted in the past. And that's before inflation. If inflation rises from zero or negative at the moment back to rising a couple of percent, those long term bonds could drop by 20-30% in value.

There is a way out of losing money, of course. When a PIIGS country exits the Euro, its own currency is likely to plummet. If there is a ‘Grexit’, the Greek Drachma will probably drop 30-50%, so Greek investors in Euros will make handsome returns, even if they initially invest at negative yields. The low yields are a bet against the Euro holding together.

That's if the Germans give them their Euros back at maturity. In the meantime, European bonds and shares are generating outstanding returns in the short term under ‘QE Europe’ as yields fall, the Euro falls and share prices surge.

 

Ashley Owen is Joint CEO of Philo Capital Advisers and a director and adviser to the Third Link Growth Fund. This article is educational only. It is not personal financial advice and does not consider the circumstances of any individual.

RELATED ARTICLES

Are bond yields lower forever or is the Big Bang coming?

Briefly, on the role of government bonds

A journey through the life of a fixed rate bond

banner

Most viewed in recent weeks

Welcome to Firstlinks Edition 383

One of the downsides of Donald Trump commanding the headlines is that we skim over other significant issues. For example, few Australians read the China Daily News or coverage of its contents, missing official statements that are terrifying hundreds of Australian producers. China says Australia will 'pay tremendously' for its recent lack of respect.

  • 12 November 2020

Five ways the Retirement Review points to new policies

The Retirement Income Review goes much further than an innocent-sounding 'fact base', and is sure to guide policies in the run up to the next election. It will change how we think about retirement incomes.

Graeme Shaw on why investing is at a pivotal moment

Company profits have not improved for many years but higher valuations have been driven by falling rates and excess liquidity. Conditions do not suit a value and contrarian manager but here are some opportunities.

Retirement Review gives strong views on hoarding of super

The Review includes some profound findings, most notable that retirement income should include drawing down far more capital. Expect post-retirement products to proliferate under a Retirement Income Covenant.

11 key findings on retirement dreams during the pandemic

A mid-pandemic survey of over 1,000 people near or in retirement found three in four are not confident how long their money will last. Only 18% felt their money was safe during a strong economic downturn.

Bank scorecard 2020: when will the mojo return?

Banks severely cut dividends in 2020 but are expected to improve payments in 2021. History provides clues to when the banks will return to their 2019 levels of profitability, but who is positioned the best?

Latest Updates

Retirement

Five ways the Retirement Review points to new policies

The Retirement Income Review goes much further than an innocent-sounding 'fact base', and is sure to guide policies in the run up to the next election. It will change how we think about retirement incomes.

Property

Steve Bennett on investing in direct property for the long term

As people stayed home during the pandemic, a bearish view swept over most property sectors, but many have thrived and prices have recovered rapidly. The best opportunities are in long leases with quality tenants.

Retirement

Retirement Review gives strong views on hoarding of super

The Review includes some profound findings, most notable that retirement income should include drawing down far more capital. Expect post-retirement products to proliferate under a Retirement Income Covenant.

Superannuation

Paul Keating on why super relies on “not draining the bath”

Paul Keating is the champion of compulsory superannuation as the central means of funding retirement. In the wake of the Retirement Income Review, he is at his passionate best defending the system, with Leigh Sales.

Latest from Morningstar

Is your portfolio too heavy on technology stocks?

Investors with heavy allocations to a broad US index should check how much is exposed to tech stocks, especially when valuations look a bit steep. It might be time to reallocate to other sectors or styles.

Investment strategies

Beware of burning down the barn to bury the debt

At some point, policymakers will turn to the task of deleveraging, to work off massive debt burdens built up during the pandemic. Australia is already ticking the boxes on many policies used in the past.

Superannuation

New bankruptcy rules may have a domino impact on SMSF pensions

During COVID, bankruptcy rules have allowed small businesses to trade while insolvent. It may mean an SMSF is hit by the collapse of a business leaving trustees struggling to meet their own legal obligations.

Sponsors

Alliances

© 2020 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 class service prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892) and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, has been prepared by without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. Refer to our Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information. 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.