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If the bonds rate is the same as market interest rate, why would anybody bother buying bonds instead of just putting money in a bank?

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Rates are a complex field.

I will assume that context wise you are talking about rates for a individual saver quantities.

The two rates you are asking about are personal bank saving account and exchange traded bonds.

The points you want to compare between them are.

  • Fixed vs Floating Interest Rate
  • Term structure/Maturity
  • Counter-party risk

Fixed vs Floating Rate

In general, a bond is what we called a fixed rate instrument. This means that for the life of the product, it will yield a fixed percentage of its face value at a regular period. Baring any extreme circumstances (such as bankruptcy), no external factors will change the payment schedule on a bond.

Conversely, by placing your money into a bank, you will accrue interest rate at some value related to some published interest rate. For example, if tomorrow, the Treasury decided to try to stimulate the economy, they could slash the interest rate, this would directly affect the rate at which your savings account would accrue interest.

Maturity

In general, a bond has a maturity date, where the capital is finally released from the bond. Until such date, you cannot access the money directly (you can however sell the bond, but it would likely be at a discounted value). Therefore, in general, you cannot get access to the money whenever you want it.

As for a saving account, normally one can access the funds instantly, if not within a few days.

Counter Party Risk

This seems to the reason people seem to be focusing on.

For each bond, the issuer of the bond is obligated to pay you the holder of the bond fixed payments at an interval, plus the capital at the maturity. However, obligation does not mean guarantee. If the issuer, is unable to make the payments, they may go into bankruptcy to avoid paying you.

There are companies setup to advise people on the likelihood of each bond issuer on their ability to honour their debts. For example Standard and Poor issues a rating which goes all the way up to AAA for bonds. Recently, many sovereign countries have lost their AAA rating from S&P. Meaning that S&P feel that the possibility of these countries going bankrupt is non-zero.

Conversely, banks may also be unable to give you your money when requested. In the US, the reserve requirements means that at any one time it only holds 10% of the money it owes to its customers. This can mean that if every customer turns up to the bank to demand their money, that bank would be unable to pay.

This situation is called a Bank Run. During such a situation, the bank would likely collapse and default. In many modern countries, the government put into place guarantees on the first xxx amount in saving accounts, but otherwise, your savings could be lost.

Conclusion

There are many complex reasons to choose one instrument over another (including some I have avoided), even if at the outset, they could appear to have the same rates.

7

For safety. If something catastrophic happens to your bank and your money is in there you will lose any not covered by FDIC. So if you have a very large amount of money you will store it in bonds as its much less likely that the US treasury will go bankrupt than your bank.

I also literally just posted this in another thread:

Certain rules and regulations penalize companies or institutions for holding cash, so they are shifting to bonds and bills. Fidelity, for example, is completely converting its $100 billion dollar cash fund to short term bills. Its estimated that over $2 trillion that is now in cash may be converted to bills, and that will obviously put upward preasure on the price of them. The treasury is trying to issue more short term debt to balance out the demand. read more here: http://www.wsj.com/articles/money-funds-clamor-for-short-term-treasurys-1445300813

  • I don't suppose you have a link that's not stuck behind a paywall? – Mason Wheeler Nov 24 '15 at 21:00
  • Bonds are not exclusively issued by the US treasury, in fact, many banks also issue banks, as well as private companies. – Aron Nov 25 '15 at 5:40
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    @MasonWheeler similar story from bloomberg bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-06/… – von Mises Nov 25 '15 at 15:26
  • @Aron Yes there are quite a few alternatives to US treasuries one could use, but treasuries are generally considered the safest. German Bunds are also considered safe. Corporate bonds are more risky, and as such they generally pay out higher yields – von Mises Nov 25 '15 at 15:50
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If by "putting money in the bank" you mean regular savings or checking, then the bond locks a rate for a period of time, whereas your savings/checking rate can vary over that period. That variation might go for you or against you. Depending on your situation, you might prefer to take a determined rate to the variations. In addition, some bond types provide tax benefits (e.g. treasuries and municipal bonds) that change the effective return - You cannot just compare the interest rates.

Finally, the bonds have "resale" value on the secondary market like stock - Depending on your outlook and strategy, you might by the bond for its value as a security rather than for the interest specifically just like you'd could buy a dividend-paying stock for its value as a security rather than for the dividend. In other words, you might think that bond values are going up, so you buy bonds with the intent of making a capital gain rather than counting on the interest returned. (The bond market does depend on the interest rate, so these are not independent factors.)

I see the other answer that mentions the potential for your bank busting and you losing money beyond the FDIC insurance limit. The question doesn't specify U.S. Government bonds though, so I don't think that answer is generally good. It would be good in the case that you had a lot of money (especially an institution or foreign government) and you were specifically interested in U.S. Treasury bonds. Not so much if you invest in corporate bonds where you have no government insurance / assurance of any sort. Municipal bounds are also not backed by the U.S. (federal) government, but they may have some backing at the state level, depending on the state.

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There is no single 'market interest rate'; there are myriad interest rates that vary by risk profile & term. Corporate bonds are (typically) riskier than bank deposits, and therefore pay a higher effective rate when the market for that bond is in equilibrium than a bank account does.

If you are willing to accept a higher risk in order gain a higher return, you might choose bonds over bank deposits. If you want an even higher return and can accept even higher risk, you might turn to stocks over bonds. If you want still higher return and can bear the still higher risk, derivatives may be more appealing than stocks.

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It is my understanding that banks pay less than the going rate on savings accounts and require that the person who takes out a loan pay more than the going rate. That is how the bank gets its money.

Usually the going rate is affected by the current inflation rate (but that has not been true for the last few weeks). So that means that, typically, the money you have in the bank is, gradually, losing purchasing power as the bank typically pays you less than the inflation rate.

So if you want your money to keep pace with inflation (or do a bit better) then you should buy bonds.

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Bonds can increase in price, if the demand is high and offer solid yield if the demand is low. For instance, Russian bond prices a year ago contracted big in price (ie: fell), but were paying 18% and made a solid buy. Now that the demand has risen, the price is up with the yield for those early investors the same, though newer investors are receiving less yield (about 9ish percent) and paying higher prices.

I've rarely seen banks pay more variable interest than short term treasuries and the same holds true for long term CDs and long term treasuries. This isn't to say it's impossible, just rare. Also variable is different than a set term; if you buy a 10 year treasury at 18%, that means you get 18% for 10 years, even if interest rates fall four years later.

Think about the people buying 30 year US treasuries during 1980-1985. Yowza.

So if you have a very large amount of money you will store it in bonds as its much less likely that the US treasury will go bankrupt than your bank.

Less likely? I don't know about your bank, but my bank doesn't owe $19 trillion.

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    I don't know about your bank, but my bank doesn't have the right either to issue its own currency, or to impose taxation on a $15 trillion economy. – jwg Nov 25 '15 at 8:44

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