What is a bond?

A bond is a fixed income instrument that represents a loan made by an investor to a borrower (typically corporate or governmental). A bond could be thought of as an I.O.U. between the lender and borrower that includes the details of the loan and its payments. Bonds are used by companies, municipalities, states, and sovereign governments to finance projects and operations. Owners of bonds are debtholders, or creditors, of the issuer.

Bond details include the end date when the principal of the loan is due to be paid to the bond owner and usually includes the terms for variable or fixed interest payments made by the borrower. The Issuers of Bonds

Governments (at all levels) and corporations commonly use bonds in order to borrow money. Governments need to fund roads, schools, dams, or other infrastructure. The sudden expense of war may also demand the need to raise funds.

Similarly, corporations will often borrow to grow their business, to buy property and equipment, to undertake profitable projects, for research and development, or to hire employees. The problem that large organizations run into is that they typically need far more money than the average bank can provide.

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Bonds provide a solution by allowing many individual investors to assume the role of the lender. Indeed, public debt markets let thousands of investors each lend a portion of the capital needed. Moreover, markets allow lenders to sell their bonds to other investors or to buy bonds from other individuals—long after the original issuing organization raised capital.

IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER:

  • Bonds are units of corporate debt issued by companies and securitized as tradable assets.
  • A bond is referred to as a fixed-income instrument since bonds traditionally paid a fixed interest rate (coupon) to debtholders. Variable or floating interest rates are also now quite common.
  • Bond prices are inversely correlated with interest rates: when rates go up, bond prices fall and vice-versa.
  • Bonds have maturity dates at which point the principal amount must be paid back in full or risk default.

HOW BOND WORKS:

Bonds are commonly referred to as fixed-income securities and are one of three asset classes individual investors are usually familiar with, along with stocks (equities) and cash equivalents. Many corporate and government bonds are publicly traded; others are traded only over-the-counter (OTC) or privately between the borrower and lender.

When companies or other entities need to raise money to finance new projects, maintain ongoing operations, or refinance existing debts, they may issue bonds directly to investors. The borrower (issuer) issues a bond that includes the terms of the loan, interest payments that will be made, and the time at which the loaned funds (bond principal) must be paid back (maturity date). The interest payment (the coupon) is part of the return that bondholders earn for loaning their funds to the issuer. The interest rate that determines the payment is called the coupon rate.

CHARACTER

CHARACTERISTICS OF BONDS:

Most bonds share some common basic characteristics including:
  • Face value is the money amount the bond will be worth at maturity; it is also the reference amount the bond issuer uses when calculating interest payments.
  • The maturity date is the date on which the bond will mature and the bond issuer will pay the bondholder the face value of the bond.
  • The issue price is the price at which the bond issuer originally sells the bonds.