What Is a War Bond?
A war bond is a financial tool used by governments to raise funds for military operations and expenses. The government issues debt that the public can purchase. People may buy these bonds out of a sense of duty or other emotional reasons. Although war bonds usually do not pay interest, they are sold at a discount and mature to face value after a period of 10 to 30 years.
In times of war or conflict, governments issue debt securities known as war bonds to secure financial resources for military operations. These bonds, offering returns below the market rate, rely on emotional appeals to patriotic citizens who willingly lend financial support to the government.
War Bonds: Financing Defense Initiatives
Governments issue war bonds, a form of debt instrument, to secure funds for defense initiatives and military operations during wartime. These bonds, essentially loans to the government, are sold below face value, with investors receiving the face value at maturity.
Like zero-coupon bonds, war bonds do not pay interest or coupons throughout the year. Instead, investors profit from the price difference between purchase and face value upon maturity. These baby bonds have a smaller par value, making them more accessible to retail investors, and they are nontransferable, only redeemable by the original purchaser.
Originally featuring a 10-year maturity with a 2.9% return, Congress extended the interest period to 40 years for bonds sold between 1941 and 1965, and 20 years for those issued after 1965. Following World War II, War Bonds transitioned to Series E bonds, continuing until 1980 when Series EE bonds took over.
Distinctive Features of U.S. War Bonds
Diverging from conventional Treasury securities, United States-issued war bonds (or Liberty bonds, depending on the year) possessed unique attributes. These zero-coupon securities, devoid of interest payments, were acquired at a discounted price (typically 50%-75% of the face value) and redeemed at full face value upon maturity. The maturity period varied based on the bond's issuance year. Bonds from the outset of World War II matured after ten years, with subsequent congressional amendments extending the interest accrual period to 40 years.
Global War Bonds: A Historic Overview
Various nations, including Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Austria-Hungary, joined the United States in issuing war bonds during different periods.
In the U.S., the War Advertising Council played a key role in encouraging voluntary compliance with bond purchases. Patriotism and conscience were central motivators despite the bonds offering returns below prevailing market interest rates. To reach the American public, bond advertisements utilized diverse media channels such as radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and theater newsreels. Hollywood luminaries like Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth toured the country to promote war bonds, while initiatives like contributing 25 cents for War Bonds and Girl Scouts selling 10-cent stamps were implemented. Notable artist Norman Rockwell created paintings as part of the advertising campaign.
In a contemporary context, following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian government swiftly announced war bonds to finance military expenses. Starting with a one-year bond yielding 11%, the government raised $270 million on March 1, shortly after the invasion. Successive bond issues raised a total of nearly $1 billion.
War Bonds: Evaluating Pros and Cons
Governments utilize war bonds to swiftly secure funds for military operations, leveraging patriotic sentiments to offer yields below market rates and mitigate inflation by withdrawing excess money from the economy.
For investors, war bonds provide a speculative avenue based on war outcomes. Temporary military setbacks may present opportunities for investors to purchase bonds, anticipating a quick reversal. However, this strategy entails the risk of loss if the war is unsuccessful.
Despite their advantages, U.S. war bonds presented drawbacks as an investment. They lacked interest payments over the bond's lifespan and yielded lower profits compared to alternative securities. Additionally, heavy borrowing for war financing necessitates repayment at the war's conclusion.
- War Bonds are available below face value.
- U.S. government guaranteed security.
- Investors experience pride and patriotism through wartime support.
- Lower interest rates than market alternatives.
- Absence of interest payments during the bond's lifespan.
- Risk of loss if sold before maturity at a lower price than the purchase cost.
War Bond Case Study
In the United States, the War Finance Committee managed the sale of war bonds, initially introduced as Defense Bonds and later rebranded as Liberty Bonds in 1917 to fund the nation's involvement in World War I. These bonds generated $21.5 billion for wartime initiatives.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, marking the U.S. entry into World War II, Defense Bonds transformed War Bonds. With over 80 million Americans participating, the sales amassed a staggering $180 billion in revenue. These bonds, priced at 50%-75% of face value, came in denominations ranging from $10 to $1,000, varying by issuance year.
War bonds enable nations to swiftly secure funds for military expenses at a reduced cost compared to standard sovereign bond issues. However, inherent risks are present, as these bonds generally yield lower returns, and investors bear the potential loss if the country defaults on the investment.