What Are On-the-Run Treasuries?

On-the-run Treasuries are the most recently issued U.S. Treasury bonds or notes of a particular maturity. On-the-run Treasuries are the opposite of "off-the-run" Treasuries, which refer to Treasury securities that have been issued before the most recent issue and are still outstanding. Media mentions about Treasury yields and prices generally reference on-the-run Treasuries.

Key Takeaways

  • On-the-run Treasuries are the most recent Treasury released for a certain maturity.
  • Off-the-run Treasuries are those that have been issued before and remain outstanding.
  • A Treasury transitions from on-the-run to off-the-run once a newer set of Treasuries is released for sale.

How On-the-Run Treasuries Work

The on-the-run bond or note is the most frequently traded Treasury security of its maturity. Because on-the-run issues are the most liquid, they typically trade at a slight premium and thus yield a little less than their off-the-run counterparts. Some traders successfully exploit this price differential through an arbitrage strategy that involves selling, or going short, on-the-run Treasuries, and buying off-the-run Treasuries.

Treasuries are considered to be a lower risk than some other investment options, as they are debts owed by the Federal Government. The Treasury issues them to raise revenue for government expenses. As Treasuries are created and sold, the newest batch becomes the on-the-run Treasuries.

On-the-Run vs. Off-the-Run Treasuries

A Treasury transitions from on-the-run to off-the-run once a newer set of Treasuries is released for sale. For example, if one-year Treasury notes are issued today, those would be the current on-the-run Treasuries.

If another set of Treasury notes get issued in the next month, those become the new on-the-run Treasuries, and the previously issued Treasuries are considered off-the-run. This cycle continues as each new batch is created, with every group other than the newest run deemed off-the-run for the rest of its associated time, until it is cashed in upon reaching maturity.

The most actively traded Treasuries at any point in time are those that are considered on-the-run. Due to the increased activity, they tend to have a higher initial cost and lower yield than off-the-run notes. This causes on-the-run Treasuries to be more liquid, as finding a buyer tends to be simpler than off-the-run options. This leads to more investments relating to hedging than to longer-term investments.

Long-term investors do not need to purchase on-the-run Treasuries at a higher price since the included return or interest rates tend to be similar. The price difference between on-the-run and off-the-run Treasuries is often referred to as the liquidity premium, as the more liquid Treasuries are obtained at a higher cost. If liquidity is not a concern, the investor will likely look for more cost-effective options.

Advantages and Disadvantages of On-the Run Treasuries

On-the-run Treasuries are more scarce than off-the-run Treasuries. There are plenty of off-the-run treasuries, yet, there are a limited amount of on-the-run securities—that is, new issues are a small part of the Treasury universe. Thus, on-the-run securities tend to have higher prices and lower yields.

On-the-run securities tend to be highly liquid, as they trade heavily on the secondary market. Meanwhile, the liquidity for off-the-run Treasuries is less, where they've already been bought and are held by investors. Thus, on-the-run Treasuries trade with that liquidity premium, but if investors don't need the newest issue, they will likely find a better deal with off-the-run Treasuries.