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How to Manage Bond Fund Risk
Old 05-06-2014, 08:10 AM   #1
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How to Manage Bond Fund Risk

Target maturity funds still fluctuate in price, carry some default risk, and generally have higher expense ratios than index funds, but it appears there are total yield benefits for investors who hold them to maturity.

How To Manage Maturity Risk In Bond Funds As The Fed Pulls Back - NASDAQ.com

I shortened duration of my fixed income holdings, but I haven't dipped my toe I the target maturity fund pool yet, still trying to wrap my head around them.

There are others here far more knowledgeable than I am on target maturity funds.
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Old 05-06-2014, 10:00 AM   #2
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Thanks for posting the article.

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Originally Posted by Midpack View Post
Target maturity funds still fluctuate in price, carry some default risk, and generally have higher expense ratios than index funds, but it appears there are total yield benefits for investors who hold them to maturity.
I didn't see in the article how target maturity funds could result in better total yield (maybe i missed it). Perhaps you or someone else could explain this part?


In general, I've been puzzled by the interest in these types of funds. I'm no bond expert and welcome other opinions, but as far as I can see there's only two reasons to get one:
  1. You have a large nominal liability coming due and you get a matching target maturity fund. I'm thinking something like a balloon payment on a mortgage or maybe college tuition. I personally wouldn't put yearly living expenses in this category but I can see how some might do so.
  2. You want to market time and select a maturity date before you believe interest rates will rise.

Some other thoughts:
  • I think the fluctuation in principal is a non-issue (except in case #1 above). All bonds, bond funds, target maturity funds will lose principal if interest rates rise as they are marked to market price. The idea that bonds don't lose principal but bond-funds do is a fiction.
  • What is the practical benefit of target maturity funds when most people have already shortened the duration of their bond funds? Most recommendations I see are for CD, short and intermediate term bonds. Do you really need to manage maturity risk in this situation? A short term fund like VFISX (short treasury, 2.2 year duration) only had one down year (-0.1% in 2013) since 1999
  • Why not "roll your own" target maturity fund with existing low cost bond funds by gradually transfering money from intermediate -> short term -> cash equivalent (just set this up automatically)
  • If one is really concerned with loss of "principal", why not make a ladder out of treasuries and avoid the default risk in target maturity funds. With government bonds there's no need to diversify and you avoid the higher expense ratios.
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Old 05-06-2014, 10:58 AM   #3
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I own both the Guggenheim Bulletshares and the iShares target maturity funds.

While I know others may disagree with my rationale, I view them as somewhat of a CD substitute since I plan to hold them to maturity. I recognize that they have more credit risk than a CD and more interest rate risk than a CD but the interest rate risk is a moot point for me since I plan to hold them to maturity. In the meantime you get a decent but not spectacular yield.

Another way of viewing them is as a share in an individual bond portfolio that mature in a given year.

Brokered CDs in the 5-7 year range yield 2.0-2.7% and bank CDs are even lower. The iShares 2020 Corporate Term EFT yields 2.35% and the Guggenheim 2020 Corporate Bond ETF yields 2.63%. The durations are 4.58 and 5.31 respectively which somewhat explains the higher yield of the Bulletshares (it has a bit more credit risk too as I recall).

I had cash out some of the Bulletshares at the end of 2013 and planned to reinvest in iShares because they have a lower ER (0.10% vs 0.24%), but the spreads between the iShares and NAV have been wider in 2014 than they have been historically and I prefer to buy close to NAV so at this point i'm waiting it out - but the spread seems to be getting wider rather than narrower.

If I can't reinvest at the price I want I'll hope that PenFed does another December blue light sale on CDs and jump on it.
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Old 05-06-2014, 12:14 PM   #4
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I didn't see in the article how target maturity funds could result in better total yield (maybe i missed it). Perhaps you or someone else could explain this part?
pb4uski knows them far better than I do, but you don't lose your principal with a target maturity fund IF you hold to fund maturity AND there are no (individual bond) defaults. And you know exactly when the principal will be returned as the fund closes at stated maturity. (Aggregate) bond funds usually don't hold individual bonds to maturity so investors have no guarantee that all of their principal will be there at a specific point in the future. Both provide yields and both have default risk, the difference is expected to be in principal returned.

Target maturity funds lie somewhere between individual bonds and (aggregate) bond funds in many respects. And I can certainly see how they could be a viable alternative to CDs if not conventional bonds funds. There are no easy answers in fixed income these days...
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Old 05-06-2014, 02:30 PM   #5
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I personally find the case for target maturity bond funds to be quite weak. The target maturity fund starts out with exactly the same interest rate risk as a traditional bond fund of the same duration. But the target maturity fund's duration declines toward zero as the maturity date approaches, so over time the two funds will diverge with regard to interest rate risk, with the traditional bond fund being the more risky.

So investors in target maturity funds are in effect saying that assuming interest rate risk is ok right now, but not in a few years. This definitely makes sense if one has a big payment to be made at the end of the holding period, but it's less clear why a buy and hold investor should be attracted to this type of fund.
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Old 05-06-2014, 03:37 PM   #6
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Like I said, I view them more as a CD substitute. One could argue that if you have a variety of maturities and continually renew them that they are no different than a bond fund and in the long run that might be true. In my mind they give me a little bit more control and similar yield to a bond fund.

I actually like that the duration and interest rate risk decline over time as we get closer to maturity.

One nuance to explain (particularly for the Bulletshares) is that while the bonds mature over the course of the target year the proceeds are invested in short term instruments until the end of the year when the terminal distribution occurs, so the yield the last year is poor. My intent would be to mitigate this by selling in the 4th quarter of the year prior to the target maturity (IOW, sell the 2020 during the 4th quarter of 2019).
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Old 05-06-2014, 04:15 PM   #7
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I haven't really shortened my duration much. The problem with shortening duration today is that you are really buying the most expensive end of the curve, since the curve is very steep because so many investors have bought short maturity bonds in anticipation of an interest rate increase. You're not being paid much while you wait. And chances are, given the number of people "hiding" in short-term bond funds, and the number of people short treasuries, that when interest rates do finally rise, the effect will be more pronounced at the very short end. It's not unusual for rate curves to go from steep to flat with the 10-year interest rate moving little, while the 1 year and less rate moves dramatically.

I consider the event last year a good example about lots of noise but when it all falls out intermediate bond funds had recovered within 6 months, breaking even for the year, and then rallying pretty good YTD, in spite of the 10-year treasury experiencing a sudden 1% jump in the middle of last year.

We are 1/3 of the way through the Fed taper (which they indicate they will complete pretty much no matter what), yet 10 year treasury rates are lower, not higher since it began. It seems pretty baked in.

If I needed to buy something with the funds on a given date, three years in the future, I might consider such a vehicle (or a CD targeting that date). But if I intend to hold bond funds for the next 30 years+, the year-in year-out fluctuation doesn't bother me, especially since I bought most of my position 15 years ago.

If interest rates rise, IMO, it will be because there has been a marked economic improvement and CPI is not longer languishing under 2%. Maybe unemployment drops precipitously, which is somewhat expected by demographics in 2015. Maybe there are other things that take off. Maybe Europe gets out of the doldrums and that helps the US. In that scenario, hopefully, my equity funds will rise at the same time my bond funds are being hit, and I will rebalance and buy more bond funds at better prices.
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Old 05-06-2014, 05:09 PM   #8
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One nuance to explain (particularly for the Bulletshares) is that while the bonds mature over the course of the target year the proceeds are invested in short term instruments until the end of the year when the terminal distribution occurs, so the yield the last year is poor. My intent would be to mitigate this by selling in the 4th quarter of the year prior to the target maturity (IOW, sell the 2020 during the 4th quarter of 2019).
Are you certain that you can get away with selling a year before the terminal distribution without risking selling at a loss of principal? It seems to me that other investors would be aware that the target date bond fund will generate only money market-like yields for the final year and be unwilling to buy the shares without being given a price discount. I know that I wouldn't be a buyer in such circumstances.
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Old 05-06-2014, 06:09 PM   #9
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I have largely punted index and longer duration bond funds. I still have a slug in a 401k where I don't have a lot of options. The alternatives I have jumped on are CDs, shorter duration foreign bonds, a few CEFs trading at huge discounts (one of which has a zero duration as well), and a stable value type fund. I also maintain an allocation to merger arbitrage funds in order to avoid having a larger bond position. If I had to reallocate to bonds now I would be buying CDs, merger arbitrage, and maybe shopping in the discount bin for individual corporates of 5 year or shorter maturity that did not make me want to puke when I evaluated their credit.
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Old 05-06-2014, 07:12 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by photoguy View Post
I didn't see in the article how target maturity funds could result in better total yield (maybe i missed it). Perhaps you or someone else could explain this part?
Some other thoughts:
  • I think the fluctuation in principal is a non-issue (except in case #1 above). All bonds, bond funds, target maturity funds will lose principal if interest rates rise as they are marked to market price. The idea that bonds don't lose principal but bond-funds do is a fiction.
  • What is the practical benefit of target maturity funds when most people have already shortened the duration of their bond funds? Most recommendations I see are for CD, short and intermediate term bonds. Do you really need to manage maturity risk in this situation? A short term fund like VFISX (short treasury, 2.2 year duration) only had one down year (-0.1% in 2013) since 1999
To respond to these two points with the same comment:

Everyone always says "If rates rise, bond funds will simply pay out higher interest, so your total return will be about the same".

However, in reality, people forget that a bond fund's 'dividends' paid out are not that simple. Check your 1099s (if you have them in taxable accounts), or look up the bond fund's sponsor's website to get the tax characteristics of the distributions. You might be surprised that some bond funds are spinning off both capital gains and/or return of principal.

That means that if/when rates rise, not only will your bond fund's market price drop in order for the same distribution to yield more to match the yield curve, but the fund's distribution itself could be subject to DECREASES (or smaller increases), if the fund had been spinning off capital gains (which it won't have any more of, if rates had been rising), or some return of principal to try and artificially boost the distribution during low interest rate periods.

So if the distribution actually drops (or doesn't rise as much as it would otherwise by reinvesting in newer bonds), you'll have 2 reasons for the bond fund's market price to drop even more than you might expect.

A target maturity fund would, I believe, help alleviate a good part of the risk of a manager juicing up distributions with return of capital, or less of a chance of short-term temporary increased distributions from capital gains distributions.
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Old 05-06-2014, 07:15 PM   #11
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a few CEFs trading at huge discounts (one of which has a zero duration as well)
A bond fund with zero duration trading at a decent discount? Care to share a name?
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Old 05-06-2014, 07:59 PM   #12
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A bond fund with zero duration trading at a decent discount? Care to share a name?
PPT. It has other risks besides duration risk, of course.
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Old 05-06-2014, 08:57 PM   #13
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I have a very basic understanding of bonds and bond funds... please excuse me if this is a silly question.

Interest rates are near zero... they can go no lower. When/if interest rates rise bond fund NAVs will drop proportionally. (understood)

If the FED continues to keep rates near zero for several more years ( and they very well might to control the interest due on our national debt )...

As existing bonds mature in a bond fund and are replaced with new lower yielding bonds... won't the total yield of the bond fund continue to decline? And won't this also have a negative effect on NAVs?
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Old 05-06-2014, 11:13 PM   #14
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Are you certain that you can get away with selling a year before the terminal distribution without risking selling at a loss of principal? It seems to me that other investors would be aware that the target date bond fund will generate only money market-like yields for the final year and be unwilling to buy the shares without being given a price discount. I know that I wouldn't be a buyer in such circumstances.
I don't think investors were very aware of this aspect of the instrument. If you study the data you can clearly see it in that the distributions are dramatically lower in the last year of a tranche. The terminal distribution at the end of 2013 for the 2013 issue and the market price at the beginning of 2013 were very close.

However, I think investors are catching on in that the 2014 has flipped from a premium for the second half of last year to a discount I suspect because people have caught on to the fact that the terminal year income distributions are puny. The 2015 and subsequent year issues trade at a premium.
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Old 05-07-2014, 07:46 AM   #15
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I have a very basic understanding of bonds and bond funds... please excuse me if this is a silly question.

Interest rates are near zero... they can go no lower. When/if interest rates rise bond fund NAVs will drop proportionally. (understood)

If the FED continues to keep rates near zero for several more years ( and they very well might to control the interest due on our national debt )...

As existing bonds mature in a bond fund and are replaced with new lower yielding bonds... won't the total yield of the bond fund continue to decline? And won't this also have a negative effect on NAVs?
True for aggregate bond funds and target maturity bond funds NOT held to maturity, evidently not true for target maturity bond funds (the subject of this thread) held to maturity for the same reason there's no loss of principal with individual bonds held to maturity. Just Google, here's just one Target Maturity Bond Funds: An Alternative to Laddering
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Old 05-07-2014, 10:14 AM   #16
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As existing bonds mature in a bond fund and are replaced with new lower yielding bonds... won't the total yield of the bond fund continue to decline? And won't this also have a negative effect on NAVs?
I think it's more complicated than just saying ongoing low yields will negatively affect NAVs. A bond fund manager is probably quite unlikely to hold bonds to maturity. Instead old bonds will be sold and new ones purchased so that the bond fund can maintain its desired average maturity.

So I would expect that the bond fund will be selling older, higher yielding bonds as they approach maturity and buying lower yielding bonds to replace them. That should produce a capital gains for the fund - the higher yielding bonds should sell at a premium to their purchase price. This capital gains will be passed on to the investors in the bond fund as a capital gains distribution in December. True, the NAV will decline on the day of the dividend, but investors don't lose anything. If they are reinvesting dividends, then they simply are getting more shares at a lower price. The value of their investment remains the same.
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Old 05-07-2014, 10:24 AM   #17
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I don't think investors were very aware of this aspect of the instrument. If you study the data you can clearly see it in that the distributions are dramatically lower in the last year of a tranche. The terminal distribution at the end of 2013 for the 2013 issue and the market price at the beginning of 2013 were very close.

However, I think investors are catching on in that the 2014 has flipped from a premium for the second half of last year to a discount I suspect because people have caught on to the fact that the terminal year income distributions are puny. The 2015 and subsequent year issues trade at a premium.
When I first learned of these funds I wasn't sure how that terminal years would be structured, so I called a very helpful spokeswoman at Guggenheim. Just like you say, and IMO this is likely the very best way to do it, given their constraints. I passed on the investment, because I think that dealing adequately with duration is more important than these various attempts at fund structure solutions


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Old 05-07-2014, 01:14 PM   #18
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I would rather they just manage it like a pass-through and as bonds mature in the target year pass the proceeds on to the investors so it is just like owning a proportional interest in the underlying bond portfolio but they would be giving up a smidgen of fees if they did that.
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Old 05-08-2014, 01:45 PM   #19
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When one buys a bond at a premium one only gets back the original issue price of the bond not necessarily what was paid if it was bought above the issue price. I would think the same logic applies to target date funds.

Bonds (and target funds) are not CDs where the full principle (what you paid) is always returned if held to maturity if one pays a premium for the bond or a target maturity fund.

For example, if one buys into a target maturity fund (e.g. Bullet shares) that is holding bonds that are trading say 3%-5% over par (as many of these are) I would imagine that when they mature the holder gets back par (e.g. 100) not what they bought them for if bought at a premium (e.g. 103). So, as with an individual bond, at maturity you’d get 100 back not the 103 you paid. Of course you’ve collected the interest throughout the years that more than makes up the difference if re-invested but not if used for living expenses.

Just an example but one that needs to be understood when speaking of both individual bonds bought at a premium and, I assume, these target maturity vehicles holding bonds that are priced above par.

Other thoughts ?
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Old 05-09-2014, 09:20 AM   #20
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pb4uski knows them far better than I do, but you don't lose your principal with a target maturity fund IF you hold to fund maturity AND there are no (individual bond) defaults. And you know exactly when the principal will be returned as the fund closes at stated maturity.

Thanks. I think I follow this argument. I see two possible counter-arguments: (1) From a practical perspective, bond funds rarely lose money (nominal $). As per AudreyH1's example, you can have an interest rate rise with little net impact especially if you can wait a little while to recoup losses through higher yields. (2) If you have a 5 year maturity fund and bond fund of the same duration and an interest rate rise occurs a few years later, this may result in the bond fund losing principal on the 5th year maturity date (there hasn't been enough time for the greater yield to catch-up). But in this case I would argue that the original bond-fund is no longer an appropriate comparison (after time passes) and the maturity fund should be compared with another fund with shorter duration in my portfolio.



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However, in reality, people forget that a bond fund's 'dividends' paid out are not that simple. Check your 1099s (if you have them in taxable accounts), or look up the bond fund's sponsor's website to get the tax characteristics of the distributions. You might be surprised that some bond funds are spinning off both capital gains and/or return of principal.


I've had very little capital gains returns from my bond funds (maybe 10% of payouts) and I didn't see any that returned principal. However, I'm not sure I follow your point as wouldn't the CG and CL follow directly from the fund selling individual bonds as they age but the CL would be made up for in the new purchases at increased yield.


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A target maturity fund would, I believe, help alleviate a good part of the risk of a manager juicing up distributions with return of capital, or less of a chance of short-term temporary increased distributions from capital gains distributions.
Wouldn't people normally use sec yield to compare bond funds (and estimate future return) which ignores CG and/or return of principal?
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