Category Archives: Finance

Hold To Maturity – A Fuzzy Framework for Fixed Income Investing

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I have been seeing quite a few articles about the decline in bond prices and the bond bear market.

These are excellent headlines, but appear to be fighting the last battle.

Many investors appear to be evaluating fixed income investments without considering hold to maturity.  Isn’t hold to maturity the primary way you should be evaluating fixed income?  

You lend money to the borrower for a fixed amount of time, the borrower is contractually obligated to pay you a coupon, and at maturity give you your principal back.  That is why they call it fixed income. The returns are not ambiguous.  As a fixed income investor you care about yield, duration, and credit quality (i.e., getting your principal back).

Decades of declining interest rates appear to have made that framework fuzzy.  With fixed income, declining yields lead to price increases.  A long period of declining rates appear to have lulled fixed income investors to sleep a bit.  Or distracted fixed income investors from the fundamentals.

However, if investors are focusing on the short-term price movements of fixed income investments, then they are trading, not investing.  Price increases have historically not been what fixed income investors should be counting on.  Again, fixed income investors should be focusing on yield, duration, and getting their principal back at the end of all that. 

Expecting price increases in fixed income implies expecting lower rates in the future.  Another dimension that investors need to realize is that the Fed does not control longer rates.  The Fed sets short term rates. Longer rates are determined by many things including supply and demand and the inflation outlook.  So the Fed could lower short rates, but that’s no guarantee that long rates follow suit.  The yield curve is still inverted mind you.  

This topic also ties into Howard Marks’ latest article where a main point was – if an investor could achieve their target returns with fixed income, why would they consider investing in equities.  Marks is using the traditional framework for fixed income – hold to maturity.  Short term price movements are not something to focus on.

ETFs could also be causing some issues here.  ETFs tend to hold many issues, even if they are the same type, and therefore do not have a clear maturity date.  For example, the iShares 7 – 10 Year Treasury Bond ETF (symbol: IEF) holds 13 issues with a 2.93% current yield, 4.69% 30 day SEC Yield, and weighted average duration of 8.37 years.  So ETFs hold multiple issues, which are changing as the fund sells issues and purchases new ones.  And, the yield is not fixed as is the case with a single issue.  So, bond ETFs are sort of a composite issue, but not really, which also makes hold to maturity a bit fuzzy.

What is also interesting here is the difference between the current yield (last dividend annualized) and the 30 Day SEC yield, 2.93% and 4.69% in the case of IEF, respectively.  The current yield is nowhere close to the yield on new 10 year treasuries, but this would be expected since older issues are yielding much lower rates.  The fund cannot payout income it is not receiving.  

The older issues would also have a current market price well below par.  Those issues should theoretically increase in price as they get closer to maturity.  Recall, bond investors will get their principal back at maturity unless the borrower defaults.

It is not entirely clear to me  why the current yield and 30 day SEC yield differ so much, but presumably reflects the fact that some of the issues the fund holds are below par and would be expected to increase in price as they get closer to maturity.   I am also unclear how price increases would eventually make their way into investors’ hands, since iit does not appear to be happening through the current dividend.  It seems possible the funds are reflecting that “accrued interest” in the 30 day SEC yield.

All of that makes ETF bond funds a bit confusing and not exactly like an individual bond.

© 2023 Something For The Effort LLC  – All Rights Reserved

This commentary on this website reflects personal opinions, viewpoints, and analyses and is not financial or investment advice.

The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing on this website constitutes investment advice, performance data, or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction, or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Surging Bond Yields with Downtown Josh Brown

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This was so good on so many levels.

Catch me on Scott Galloway’s show

Long End of the Curve + Velocity:


An absolutely great dissertation on the yield curve, impact of rates, and flow through into the economy so far.  So many good points here, you just need to listen to the whole conversation.

Keep in mind, velocity matters a lot. Long rates matter way more than short rates.  There may be lags and some structural weirdness, but I am in this camp.



“You need the shock.  What is the exogenous shock that is going to happen that is all of a sudden make the recession real.?”

Spenders gonna spend.  This has been my thesis for a while.  The American consumer is not going to stop spending until they are literally stopped from spending.  American consumers will spend until they run out of money or, more likely, cannot get credit any longer.

Rates are impacting this already.

Hold To Maturity:


I disagree with this somewhat.  Not his attractiveness of the starting yield discussion; I agree with that point. 

However, if I buy a 30 Year Treasury Bond with a 5% yield, and hold it for 30 years, then my (nominal) return is literally going to be 5% every year.  How would it not be, assuming the U.S. government doesn’t default (I felt I had to add this caveat, unfortunately)?  Only if I look at price on a short term basis and mark-to-market or sell the bond prior to its maturity will my return vary.  This is like the whole point of a bond.  It is why they call it fixed income.

In my opinion, too many fixed income investors are focusing on price movements (i.e., trading) and not focusing on yield and duration.  The fact that yields have come down for 20 years, has probably caused too many fixed income investors to focus on price movements.  ETFs also distort this a bit for a couple of reasons.  More on this later.

Credit Spreads:


“Spreads have not blown out…and until they do stop saying recession.”

Yes, totally, spot on.  Watch credit…especially consumer credit.  See above.

© 2023 Something For The Effort LLC  

The World of Low Rate Mortgages

Reading Time: 3 minutes

File this under things I don’t understand.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve lowered short term interest rates and rates across longer maturities followed suit.  The rates on mortgages, such as the 30 year mortgage which is common in the U.S., hit all time lows of 2.65% in January 2021.1

Home buyers and existing home owners financed new purchases or refinanced existing mortgages at these historically low rates.  This appears to be a very rational financial decision.

Banks and financial institutions; however, lent substantial sums of money at these historically low rates.  In hindsight, this appears to be a less good decision.  Using TLT as a proxy for the value of longer dated bonds, the value has fallen close to 50% in three years. 

Now, rates have increased sharply to unexpectedly high levels.  Mind you, these are not historically high rates.  The highest rate on a 30 year mortgage in the U.S. is 18.63% set in October 1981.1  But the rates are certainly local maximums in terms of the memories of most people.  You would have to go back to 2000 to find rates this high.2

So now what?

Existing homeowners are understandably reluctant to give up these rates – in other words – sell any property financed with low rate mortgages or paydown low rate mortgages quickly.  

Banks, financial institutions, and investors who hold these low rate mortgages appear to have locked themselves into an under-performing asset for a long time.  The thesis appears to be that these entities are going to hold these assets to maturity, which means they will eventually get the principal back, so the unrealized loss sitting on their books is not a concern. In this case, they will be earning roughly half as much interest as a similar mortgage made today.  In a poorer scenario, these institutions sell these assets – for whatever reason – and take a substantial realized loss.

It seems to me that I am missing something somewhere, and do not see how this plays out (efficiently).

Mortgage owners that locked in low rates appear to have received a huge financially engineered (one-time?) benefit.  But now have little incentive to sell their properties or pay down their debts.  So the gains are literally trapped in their house.

Lending institutions lent money at historically low rates and picked up transaction fees along the way.  But are now holding under-performing assets for a couple of decades.

Is that it?  Are we stuck in the world where:

  1. Most existing homeowners are unlikely to sell for discretionary reasons.
  2. Refinancings appear to be highly unattractive.
  3. Repaying mortgage debt would also be less attractive since Tbills are earning well above the low rate mortgages.
  4. Banks and financial institutions are holding relatively unattractive mortgage assets regardless of how accounting rules make these appear.
  5. Real estate transaction volumes are going to be substantially lower for the foreseeable future.

It is almost like the average U.S. mortgage holder outfoxed the supposedly sophisticated financial institutions.  But somehow the financial institutions appear to be unimpaired in any way.  And participants are going to wait in their respective corners until…until…until what?


Bears Watching: Cash & Real Estate

Reading Time: < 1 minute

I love this chart produced by Capital Spectator on a monthly basis:

Two things I find interesting:

  1. Cash is still the best performing asset through the one year mark.  Actually, cash is the only positive performing asset (in nominal terms).
  2. And the poor performance of Foreign Real Estate over five years. Foreign real estate is the worst performing asset, at least in U.S. dollar terms.

Bears Watching: Short Yields & Fed Funds Rate

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Wow. Stunning collapse in short duration yields.


Over 100 bps on the two year.

And what is even more interesting to me is the gap between the current Fed Funds target rate and these rates:


Seems like that is going to need to resolve itself somehow, at some point.

Are Credit Conditions Tightening Again?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Despite the Fed raising interest rates, credit conditions were actually relaxing on some levels in the back half of 2022.

“Financial conditions have loosened significantly in recent months and, by some measures, are around levels that prevailed last March when the Fed initiated this hiking cycle.” – Why the Federal Reserve Should Raise Rates by Half a Percent

Equities were rallying through this period, unsurprisingly.  So, were digital bit apes and other assorted things.

However, there appears to be evidence that credit conditions are now heading the other way:

  1. “The Federal Reserve has reduced its balance sheet by $626 billion since the peak in April 2022, with total assets now down to $8.34 trillion, the lowest since August 2021, according to the weekly balance sheet released today. Compared to a month ago, total assets dropped by $94 billion.” “Over the past four weeks, the Fed has shed $61.2 billion in Treasury securities, exceeding by a smidgen the monthly cap of $60 billion.” – Fed’s Balance Sheet Drops by $626 Billion from Peak
  2. “The only time conditions have tightened this much has been in advance of or during the last 4 recessions since 1990.” – Credit conditions in Q4 were recessionary
  3. “As it stands, the average lender is now back up into the low 7’s for a well-qualified 30yr fixed scenario. These aren’t the highest levels we’ve seen during this cycle, but they are the highest in more than 4 months (and not too far away from the long-term highs just under 7.4%).” – Calculated Risk: “Mortgage Rates Now Back Above 7%”

We have had a 15 year bull market with low interest rates and lots of liquidity.  In other words, “Disneyland.”

My sense is most market participants are going to be slow to change how they learned to behave during the bull market cycle, until they are forced to do so.