Retirees often have the bulk of their portfolios in bonds, which tend to offer stable income. But you shouldn’t assume they’ll always perform well, thanks to the possibility of interest-rate increases.
As you may recall, the U.S. Federal Reserve Board (Fed) reacted to the 2008/2009 financial crisis by keeping interest rates near all-time lows to stimulate consumer spending (which is key to any economic recovery.) But interest rates can’t stay low forever, and the Fed has indicated that they’re poised to increase rates, perhaps as soon as 2015.
That may be a problem for bond investors. Generally, bond prices move in the opposite direction to interest rates. Higher interest rates drive bond prices down, and vice versa.
Why? Say, you buy a newly issued $10,000 bond when interest rates are at 8 percent, so your bond yields 8 percent, or $800, annually. But after your purchase, the prevailing interest rate increases to 9 percent.
Now a newly purchased $10,000 bond yields $900 annually. If you wanted to sell your bond, nobody would pay you $10,000 to get $800 interest when the going rate is $900. You’d most likely have to reduce your price.
While the threat isn’t immediate, it’s not too early to consider how to try to protect your bond portfolio from this possibility. For example, you might consider moving your bond investments to mutual funds that invest in floating-rate loans or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS).
Your advisor can help you determine if any of these investments are appropriate for you.