Secure Your Investments With Inflation-Linked Bonds
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Secure Your Investments With Inflation-Linked Bonds

4 Min.

Inflation-index-linked bonds can be a useful tool to hedge against inflation risk. These bonds increase in value during periods of inflation. Inflation-linked bonds are issued by the United States, India, Canada, and many other countries. However, TIPS and similar bonds do not provide significant protection during deflation. One additional benefit of inflation-indexed bonds is that their returns are not correlated with the performance of stocks or other fixed-income assets.

Basics

Fixed-income investments face a diminishing impact from inflation, eroding purchasing power, and diminishing actual returns over time, even with a relatively low inflation rate. Consider a portfolio with a 9% return and a 3% inflation rate, resulting in a real return of approximately 6%.

To counter inflation risk, investors turn to inflation-index-linked bonds, a financial instrument whose value appreciates during inflationary periods. These bonds are issued by various nations, including the United States, India, and Canada, offering a hedge against uncertainty. Inflation-indexed bonds have gained popularity as a strategic, long-term investment for both individuals and institutions, providing a means to navigate the challenges posed by inflation.

How Do Inflation-Linked Bonds Work?

Inflation-linked bonds correlate with the expenses of consumer goods, gauged by an inflation index like the consumer price index (CPI). Each country employs its distinct methodology for regular cost assessments, and individual agencies are tasked with issuing these bonds. Notable examples include:

  1. United States: Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) and inflation-indexed savings bonds (I bonds) are linked to the U.S. CPI's value and are disseminated by the U.S. Treasury. The current rate for I bonds issued between May 1, 2023, and Oct. 31, 2023, is 4.30%. This rate includes a fixed rate of 0.90%.
  2. United Kingdom: Inflation-linked gilts, associated with the country's retail price index (RPI), are issued by the U.K. Debt Management Office.
  3. Canada: The Bank of Canada issues real return bonds for the nation.
  4. India: Inflation-indexed bonds are facilitated through the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

Evolution of Inflation-Linked Bonds

The genesis of inflation-linked bonds traces back to the American Revolution when Massachusetts pioneered their issuance in 1780 as a countermeasure to inflation's erosive impact on consumer goods' real value. Initially perceived as unnecessary for nations adhering to the gold standard, this sentiment changed as most countries abandoned the gold standard by the 1970s.

The surge in inflation prompted a global demand for inflation-linked bonds, leading the United Kingdom to introduce the inaugural modern linkers in 1981. Subsequently, nations such as Sweden, Canada, and Australia followed suit. In 1997, the U.S. Treasury entered the arena of inflation-indexed bonds, while India adopted capital-indexed bonds the same year. However, it wasn't until 2013 that India embraced fully inflation-indexed bonds, safeguarding both coupons and principal from inflation.

In a notable event, Fitch Ratings downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+ in August 2023. The agency attributed this downgrade to concerns about the country's anticipated "fiscal deterioration" over the next three years, coupled with high national debt resulting from tax cuts and increased government spending.

Challenges Associated with Inflation-Linked Bonds

Inherent in the appeal of inflation-linked bonds lies certain associated risks that warrant consideration.

Value Fluctuations

The value of these bonds is susceptible to oscillations in interest rates. Notably, TIPS and analogous global inflation-linked bonds offer limited protection during deflationary periods marked by price declines. Although the U.S. Treasury establishes an initial floor for TIPS at par value, the presence of older TIPS issues with accumulated inflation-adjusted values exposes them to deflation risk, leading to underperformance compared to other Treasury bonds during periods such as 2008.

Trading and Taxation Complexity

The trading and taxation dynamics of inflation-linked bonds present complexities not observed in other fixed-income asset classes. This complexity arises from the dual values associated with these bonds: the original face value and the current value adjusted for inflation. The adjustments to the principal amount are classified as annual income for tax purposes, even though investors realize these adjustments only upon bond maturity. This structure exposes investors to potential taxation on what is colloquially termed "phantom income."

Conclusion

Despite their intricate features and susceptibility to downturns in deflationary phases, inflation-linked bonds maintain widespread popularity. Positioned as the most reliable investment avenue for safeguarding against short-term inflation, their appeal is underscored by the substantial impact inflation can have on returns. An added advantage of inflation-linked bonds is their non-correlation with stock returns or other fixed-income assets. Serving as a dual-purpose hedge against inflation and a means of diversification in a well-balanced portfolio, these bonds offer investors a strategic and resilient investment choice.

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)
Inflation-Indexed Savings Bonds (I Bonds)
Retail Price Index (RPI)
Inflation
Bond
Inflation-Indexed Bond
Inflation-Linked Gilt
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