What Is a Discount Bond?
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What Is a Discount Bond?

6 Min.

A discount bond is a type of bond that is sold or traded in the market for less than its face value or par. These bonds may be distressed and traded at a significant discount to par, which can increase their yield to more attractive levels. The existence of discount bonds may suggest that investors have doubts about whether the underlying company will be able to meet its debt obligations.

Basics

In the realm of bonds, a unique category emerges with the advent of discount bonds, issued at a value below their face or par value. Beyond their issuance, these bonds may traverse the secondary market at prices inferior to their face value. The distinction deepens when a bond, classified as a deep-discount bond, undergoes a transaction at a markedly reduced price, often plummeting to 20% or more below its par value. This stands in stark contrast to premium bonds, which command prices exceeding their face value.

Exploring Discount Bonds

Bonds commonly carry a face value of $1,000, symbolizing the amount paid to investors at maturity. Despite this nominal value, bonds frequently change hands in the secondary market before reaching maturity. Bonds trading below their face value are categorized as discount bonds. To illustrate, a bond with a $1,000 face value selling for $95 exemplifies a discounted bond.

As debt securities, bonds grant interest, referred to as a coupon, paid by the issuer. Typically disbursed semi-annually, the frequency may vary based on the specific bond, ranging from monthly to quarterly or annually. Individual and institutional investors buy and sell discount bonds, with institutional investors bound by specific regulations governing these transactions. A notable instance of a discount bond is the U.S. savings bond.

Interest Rate Dynamics and Bond Pricing

Bond prices and yields operate in an inverse relationship. A rise in interest rates leads to a decrease in bond prices, and conversely, a decline in interest rates results in higher bond prices. Bonds featuring a coupon rate lower than the prevailing market interest rate are likely to be sold below their face value, reflecting the opportunity cost for investors seeking superior returns from comparable securities.

Consider a scenario where an investor acquires a bond and subsequently witnesses an increase in interest rates. The heightened market interest rate diminishes the value of the acquired bond, compelling the investor to offer it at a reduced price in the secondary market. If market interest rates rise sufficiently to push a bond's price below its face value, it is termed a discount bond.

The term "discount" in this context doesn't imply a superior yield for investors; rather, it signifies a reduced price compensating for the bond's lower yield relative to prevailing market interest rates. For instance, a corporate bond trading at $980, below its $1,000 par value, qualifies as a discount bond. The diminishing price of a bond correlates with a lower coupon rate compared to prevailing yields. Conversely, when current interest rates fall below the coupon rate of an existing bond, the bond commands a premium, trading at a value higher than its face value.

Employing Yield to Maturity for Bond Valuation

For investors seeking to assess the present market value of older bonds, the tool of choice is the Yield to Maturity (YTM) calculation. YTM takes into account the bond's existing market price, par value, coupon interest rate, and time to maturity, providing a comprehensive measure of the bond's anticipated return. While the YTM calculation itself is intricate, the ease of its application is enhanced by the availability of numerous online financial calculators specifically designed for determining a bond's YTM.

Default Considerations in the Context of Discount Bonds

The acquisition of a discount bond carries an elevated potential for appreciation, contingent on the issuer avoiding default. Upon maturity, the bondholder receives the face value, surpassing the initial sub-face value purchase. Maturity timelines differ, with short-term bonds maturing in under a year, while long-term counterparts may extend to 10 or more years.

However, longer-term bonds present an augmented risk of default, often signaled by the discount status, hinting at potential financial strain for the issuer. Discounted bonds may signify expectations of default, diminishing dividends, or hesitancy among investors. Consequently, investors, acknowledging the inherent risk, benefit from a discounted purchase price as compensation.

Distressed and Zero-Coupon Bonds

Within the realm of distressed bonds, there exists a probability of default, which leads to a substantial discount below par. This results in an elevated yield, making it attractive to investors. Despite this, distressed bonds typically lack the anticipation of full and punctual interest payments, rendering investment in these securities a speculative endeavor.

In contrast, zero-coupon bonds exemplify deep discount bonds, with issuance occurring at significant discounts, sometimes exceeding 20%, contingent on the time to maturity. Operating without periodic interest payments, zero-coupon bonds steadily appreciate in value as they approach maturity, ultimately concluding with a single payment equal to the face value.

Evaluation of Discount Bonds: Balancing Risk and Reward

Navigating the realm of discount bonds is similar to buying discounted products. It presents risks and rewards for investors. While the acquisition at a reduced price opens avenues for substantial capital gains, the investor must judiciously assess this advantage against the tax implications associated with realized gains.

Bondholders, apart from zero-coupon bonds, anticipate consistent returns, with options available for both short and long-term maturities tailored to diverse portfolio requirements. The creditworthiness of the issuer assumes significance, particularly for longer-term bonds, amplifying the specter of default risk. The presence of a discount signals apprehensions about the issuer's ability to meet financial obligations, encompassing dividend payments and principal return at maturity.

Pros

  • Potential for significant capital gains, with some bonds trading at deep discounts of 20% or more below face value.
  • Regular interest payments, typically semi-annually, unless dealing with a zero-coupon bond.
  • Availability of discount bonds across varying short and long-term maturities.

Cons

  • Discount bond status may suggest anticipation of issuer default, diminished dividends, or investor hesitancy.
  • Longer-term discounted bonds carry an escalated risk of default.
  • Deeper discounts may signify financial distress in the underlying company, heightening the likelihood of default on obligations.

Conclusion

The world of discount bonds offers the potential for substantial gains but requires careful consideration of associated tax implications. While these bonds provide regular returns and come in various maturities, their discounted status may raise concerns about issuer reliability and financial stability. Investors must navigate this landscape, recognizing the nuanced interplay of risk and reward in discount bond investments.

Discount Bond
Yield to Maturity (YTM)
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