Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cheat sheet of bond yield, bond price, and interest rate

1. Bond price vs bond yield

Yield is a figure that shows the return you get on a bond. The simplest version of yield is calculated using the following formula: yield = coupon amount/price. When you buy a bond at par, yield is equal to the interest rate. When the price changes, so does the yield.

Let's demonstrate this with an example. If you buy a bond with a 10% coupon at its $1,000 par value, the yield is 10% ($100/$1,000). Pretty simple stuff. But if the price goes down to $800, then the yield goes up to 12.5%. This happens because you are getting the same guaranteed $100 on an asset that is worth $800 ($100/$800). Conversely, if the bond goes up in price to $1,200, the yield shrinks to 8.33% ($100/$1,200).

2. Bond price vs. interest rate

An easy way to grasp why bond prices move opposite to interest rates is to consider zero-coupon bonds, which don't pay coupons but derive their value from the difference between the purchase price and the par value paid at maturity.

For instance, if a zero-coupon bond is trading at $950 and has a par value of $1,000 (paid at maturity in one year), the bond's rate of return at the present time is approximately 5.26% ((1000-950) / 950 = 5.26%).

For a person to pay $950 for this bond, he or she must be happy with receiving a 5.26% return. But his or her satisfaction with this return depends on what else is happening in the bond market. Bond investors, like all investors, typically try to get the best return possible. If current interest rates were to rise, giving newly issued bonds a yield of 10%, then the zero-coupon bond yielding 5.26% would not only be less attractive, it wouldn't be in demand at all. Who wants a 5.26% yield when they can get 10%? To attract demand, the price of the pre-existing zero-coupon bond would have to decrease enough to match the same return yielded by prevailing interest rates. In this instance, the bond's price would drop from $950 (which gives a 5.26% yield) to $909 (which gives a 10% yield).

 
Sources:
1) Bond basics: yield, price, and other confusion
 

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