Treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS) are a very beneficial addition to many investment portfolios because of their diversification benefits and protection when inflation is rising. Inflation represents the pace of rising prices in an economy.
Treasury inflation-protected securities are adjusted to the most commonly used inflation measure, the Consumer Price Index (CPI). When the CPI rises, the principal amount of TIPS is adjusted upward, and when the CPI falls, the principal is adjusted downward. The coupon rate stays constant, thus generating varying amounts of interest-based off on the inflation-adjusted principal. The end result is that investors are protected against inflation.
This asset class generally does not provide high yields because of its low-risk nature. However, some TIPS bond funds do have attractive yields, including the iShares 0-5 Year TIPS Bond (STIP) and The Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX).
- TIPS are U.S. Treasury bonds that are indexed for inflation.
- When the CPI inflation index rises, the principal amount of TIPS is adjusted upward, and when the CPI falls, the principal is adjusted downward.
- Bond funds containing TIPS can provide investors with diversification since they own many TIPS across various maturities and yields.
- Investing in a TIPS bond fund has expenses and fees associated with it.
- TIPS funds may have tax implications for some investors.
Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)
iShares 0-5 Year TIPS Bond (STIP)
- Assets under management (AUM): $11 billion (as of April 01, 2022)
- Expense ratio: 0.03% (as of March 01, 2022)
- 30-day SEC yield: 9.35% (as of March 31, 2022)
- 1-year return: 5.25% (as of Feb. 28, 2022)
- 3-year return: 5.02%
- 5-year return: 3.32%
- Inception Date: Dec. 1, 2010
- Issuer: BlackRock Financial Management
BlackRock's iShares 0-5 Year TIPS Bond ETF tracks its benchmark index, the Bloomberg U.S. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) 0-5 Years Index (Series L). In other words, the fund is primarily composed of inflation-protected U.S. Treasury bonds with maturities of less than five years.
Below is the fund's exposure breakdown by maturity:
- 0-1 years: 18.25%
- 1-2 years: 16.38%
- 2-3 years: 20.37%
- 3-5 years: 43.85%
The expense ratio of 0.03% is fairly low, making it a viable alternative to more expensive funds with higher net assets. The STIP's total asset amount is smaller than Vanguard's offering, which manages over $41 billion (outlined below). Since the STIP is an exchange-traded fund (ETF), there are no investment minimums other than the purchase price of one share.
STIP pays a monthly distribution on its yield and trades on the price of its 17 holdings. The fund has an impressive 30-day SEC yield of 9.35%, with its funds carrying an average maturity of 2.51 years.
Although the "real return" of some TIPS funds can appear negative, they can still beat inflation (depending on the timeframe).
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund Investor Shares (VIPSX)
- Assets Under Management: $41.2 billion (as of Feb. 28, 2022)
- Expense Ratio: 0.20%
- 30-day SEC yield: -1.75% (as of March 31, 2022)
- 1-year return: 4.06% (as of March 31, 2022)
- 3-year return: 6.01%
- 5-year return: 4.20%
- Inception Date: June 6, 2000
- Issuer: The Vanguard Group
The Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund is one of the largest TIPS funds available with $41.2 billion in net assets. The fund invests primarily in U.S. TIPS with various maturities. The VIPSX has 51 holdings and an average effective duration of 7.6 years.
Below is the fund's exposure breakdown by maturity:
- 0-1 years: 2.2%
- 1-5 years: 49.10%
- 5-10 years: 30.50%
- 10-15 years: 0.06%
- 15-20 years: 3.9%
- 20-25 years: 7.9%
- Over 25 years: 5.8%
The minimum investment for this fund is $3,000. The Vanguard VIPSX can be a good option for those looking for a long-term approach to their high-yield TIPS strategy. Although the 30-day SEC yield can be negative at times, the long-term performance can make up for that since the fund is primarily invested in bonds with longer-dated maturities.
Investing in a TIPS fund is not the same as investing in actual TIPS. TIPS funds hold a basket of TIPS bonds in order to deliver returns and produce the desired yield. However, investors can purchase individual TIPS bonds if they believe that a particular bond might outperform a TIPS fund.
However, bond funds are more diversified, meaning they limit exposure to the individual price movement of one bond. As a result, funds are usually considered a safer alternative to individual TIPS offerings. Also, bond funds containing TIPS are more convenient to own than trying to create a portfolio of individual bonds.
However, the downside is that an investor will be paying a slight management fee to the fund that covers the cost of balancing the TIPS fund. TIPS funds are not able to reach maturity, unlike a TIPS bond, and as such, are only able to be cashed out at the current price, which is not always a higher price than the initial investment. As a result, TIPS funds can be considered a riskier investment than a TIPS bond.
What Are TIPS Funds?
TIPS funds are bond funds that hold a basket of TIPS bonds. These bond funds provide diversification since they contain many bonds with different maturities and yields. Also, TIPS bond funds prevent investors from being locked into maturity dates like individual bonds.
Are TIPS Better Than Regular Bonds?
Whether TIPS or traditional bonds are better depends on an investor's financial goals. TIPS can provide some protection from inflation but may underperform traditional bonds in a non-inflationary market. A bond fund offers investors a wide range of options versus individual bonds.
Can You Lose Money on TIPS?
As with many investments, investors can lose money on TIPS. However, TIPS bonds are considered a relatively safe investment. The volatility may be higher than other Treasury instruments since they're tied to inflation but may provide more stability than equities.
How Are TIPS ETFs Taxed?
TIPS ETFs are taxed in a more aggressive way than bonds. Investors are taxed on both the annual income and the amount of the adjusted value.
The Bottom Line
Both BlackRock's STIP and Vanguard's VIPSX funds provide investors with easy access to the TIPS market while providing diversification. The expense ratios are low, but investors should consider any tax implications of owning TIPS and consult a tax professional before investing. It is worthwhile to note that although the funds may appear to produce positive returns, it's important to compare those returns against inflation to determine the "real" return on the investment.