Short Term VS Long Term Bond Funds
Earlier this year I put together a list of high quality bond funds for readers to check out. There was a lot of good feedback, but some people questioned why I didn’t include any short term bond funds in my list. More recently reader Carla also asked about my indifference to them.
Well, to be Frank, I would have to change my name. But rather than doing that I will answer Carla’s question. 🙂
Retirement portfolios are usually associated with long term planning. Short term bonds tend to be less volatile and less sensitive to interest rate movements. But since I don’t plan to sell any time soon, short term volatility doesn’t really affect my bottom line. On the other hand, long term bonds pay a higher interest rate (or coupon) which more than compensates for the higher volatility in the long run. For evidence of this, let’s compare 2 bond funds with different durations.
Comparing Returns of ZCS and ZLC
For consistency purposes we’ll isolate the duration variable and look at the following 2 funds.
Both funds are from the same company, and hold corporate bonds. The only key difference is the duration of bonds they hold. Below shows the annual total return of these funds from Morningstar, highlighted in yellow.
As we can see, over the last 5 years the short term bond index fund (ZCS) returned only 2.21% per year. The latest inflation rate number from Statistics Canada is 2.2%. So holding a short term bond fund such as ZCS would have earned an annual real return of 0.01%. I think we can all do better than that. 🙂
Meanwhile the long term bond fund (ZLC) returned 6.21% per year on average. Even the 1 year return shows that long term bond fund ZLC came out ahead. Keep in mind this is during a rising interest rate environment, which should hurt long bond funds more. But short bond fund ZCS currently has a weighted average coupon of only 2.91%, while ZLC’s is at 5.29%. The longer investment time horizon we have, the bigger the difference in returns we should see between ZLC and ZCS. 🙂