Fixed Rate Bond Definition and Interest Rate Risks

What Is a Fixed Rate Bond?

A fixed rate bond is a bond that pays the same level of interest over its entire term. An investor who wants to earn a guaranteed interest rate for a specified term could purchase a fixed rate bond in the form of a Treasury, corporate bond, municipal bond, or certificate of deposit (CD). Because of their constant and level interest rate, these are known broadly as fixed-income securities.

Fixed rate bonds can be contrasted with floating or variable rate bonds.

Key Takeaways

  • A fixed-rate bond is a debt instrument with a level interest rate over its entire term, with regular interest payments known as coupons.
  • Upon maturity of the bond, holders will receive back the initial principal amount in addition to the interest paid.
  • Typically, longer-term fixed-rate bonds pay higher interest rates that short-term ones.

Understanding Fixed Rate Bonds

A fixed rate bond is a long-term debt instrument that pays a fixed coupon rate for the duration of the bond. The fixed rate is indicated in the trust indenture at the time of issuance and is payable on specific dates until the bond matures. The benefit of owning a fixed rate bond is that investors know with certainty how much interest they will earn and for how long. As long as the bond issuer does not default or call in the bonds, the bondholder can predict exactly what his return on investment will be.

A key risk of owning fixed rate bonds is interest rate risk or the chance that bond interest rates will rise, making an investor’s existing bonds less valuable. For example, let’s assume an investor purchases a bond that pays a fixed rate of 5%, but interest rates in the economy increase to 7%. This means that new bonds are being issued at 7%, and the investor is no longer earning the best return on his investment as he could. Because there is an inverse relationship between bond prices and interest rates, the value of the investor’s bond will fall to reflect the higher interest rate in the market. If he wants to sell his 5% bond to reinvest the proceeds in the new 7% bonds, he may do so at a loss, because the bond’s market price would have fallen. The longer the fixed rate bond’s term, the greater the risk that interest rates might rise and make the bond less valuable.

If interest rates decrease to 3%; however, the investor’s 5% bond would become more valuable if he were to sell it, since a bond’s market price increases when interest rates decrease. The fixed rate on his bond in a declining interest rate environment will be a more attractive investment than the new bonds issued at 3%.

Other Considerations

An investor could reduce his or her interest rate risk by choosing a shorter bond term. He would probably earn a lower interest rate, though, because a shorter-term fixed rate bond will typically pay less than a longer-term fixed rate bond. If a bondholder chooses to hold his bond until maturity and does not sell it on the open market, he will not be concerned about possible fluctuations in interest rates.

The real value of a fixed rate bond is susceptible to loss due to inflation. Because the bonds are long-term securities, rising prices over time can erode the purchasing power of each interest payment a bond makes. For example, if a ten-year bond pays $250 fixed coupons semi-annually, in five years, the real value of the $250 will be worthless today. When investors worry that a bond’s yield won’t keep up with the rising costs of inflation, the price of the bond drops because there is less investor demand for it.

A fixed rate bond also carries liquidity risk for those investors who are considering selling the bond before its maturity date. This risk occurs when the the spread between the bid price and ask price of the bond is too wide. If this occurs, and the bond holder is asking (ask price) for more than investors want to pay (bid price), then the original holder may be placed in a scenario whereby they sell the security for a loss or significantly reduced rate, thereby sacrificing liquidity.