Current account deficits, budget surplus, fund raising, etc, are all big terms which we hear about Governments during budgets. Have you ever wondered how a Government earns revenue when it plans to build bridges, roads and ports?
The Government just cannot print money when it plans to spend! It needs to have money it receives in the form of taxes for planning infrastructure expenditure, social sector spending and to pay employee salaries. A big majority of the income earned by Governments is via taxes – income tax, GST, export and import duties, etc. However only income earned through these is not sufficient to fulfill all budgeted commitments.
This is why Governments also raise funds through financial markets, primarily by selling long term bonds to investors. A bond is basically a loan taken from banks, Private Equity funds, Venture Capital Funds or anyone who has the capacity to lend large sums of money. The investors are paid a certain rate of interest for investing in these bonds.
An advantage of these bonds is that an investor can easily sell these on the bonds market and get his investment and interest almost immediately after purchase. Therefore, an investor can literally invest today and get a great return on his investment in a matter of few hours. Also, the chances of a Government defaulting are very very low, as a country can simply print money in order to meet its debt obligations and hence there is no risk of any debt default.
This has been the greatest attraction for investors, as it’s possible to multiply your funds immediately, without any risk of default.
In India, we have different types of bonds which are as follows:
- Government Bonds- These issued by the central government with mandatory periodic returns. The government borrows money to fund roads, schools, etc. These are also known as ‘sovereign debt’, and a good option for people with a low risk appetite.
- Corporate Bonds- These are bonds used by large financial corporations. They tend to give better returns but, there is a possibility of default as it’s corporates who issuing the bonds. A company’s assets are usually tied as collateral against bonds.
- Municipal Bonds- These bonds are issued by the state governments or the local governments in order to raise money for the government activities. They need to have a maturity period of 3 years and are backed by the government, and hence are safe for investors.
- High Yield Bonds- These are bonds rated below investment grade. They offer a high rate of interest because it runs a higher risk of default. It is usually issued by small companies who have just entered the market.
- Public Sector Bonds- These bonds are issued by Public Sector Concerns, which are companies, owned by the Central or the State Government. Therefore, the risk of default is again very low.
France, the second largest economy in the Euro zone is one of the latest European countries to issue negative rate of interests on its bonds. The other few notable names are Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria and a few others. What this means is that an investor is paying these countries to take his money! This situation arises, when investors don’t find other safe investment option and are basically buying bonds to safeguard their funds from taxes.
It’s quite a turnaround for the European Union, which in 2008 was on the brink of collapse, due to a possible debt (bonds) default by Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain. From sky high bond yields to getting paid for accepting investments – its’ quite a turnaround!
As the Euro Zone countries share the same currency, they have only one bank, .i.e. the European Central Bank (ECB). The bank’s Governor is nominated by taking all Euro zone countries on board. But, here’s the catch! These countries cannot print as much money as they wish to as no single country has any control over the central bank. Therefore, no country can spend without any worry and investors run the risk of facing real defaults.
This was an unseen circumstance for investors and the Governments. It resulted in severe budget cuts for the countries mentioned above in order to have an economy that can pay for these bonds. This resulted in a severe recession across Europe and in effect the World.
Apart from the Euro Zone crisis there have been very few instances of countries defaulting on their bonds. Thus, bonds are a great way for investors to earn money safely and quickly.
An investor is blessed with multiple investment options to choose from. It is time Indian investors start taking bonds seriously. They are one of the most underrated forms of investment.