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The Effect of Rising Interest Rates on Investors’ Portfolios

A Sept. 1 article titled “Ignorance Is Not Bliss” by Investment News highlights the impending issues facing bond investors  and whether financial advisers are taking appropriate measures to ensure their clients don’t get caught unaware.

Last week, the 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield was 2.78%, slightly down from 2.94% that it stood on Aug. 24. As the article points out, the yield pullback is likely to be short-lived as the Federal Reserve begins to taper its monthly bond purchases under what’s known as its five-year-long quantitative-easing program.

And that’s expected to happen very soon, which means investors need to take careful note. Because bond prices move in the opposite direction of yields, the rise in market yields could spell huge losses for investors. This is especially true for bond mutual funds in which portfolio managers are forced to sell their holdings at a loss in order to meet redemption demands, according to the Investment News article.

The article makes it very clear:  The yield on the 10-year Treasury has gained a full percentage point since mid-May. A 1-percentage-point rise in interest rates translates into about a 1% decline in prices for every year of a bond’s duration. To put it another way, a bond fund with a 10-year duration would fall in value by 10% for every 1-percentage point interest-rate rise.

The question becomes whether investors clearly understand the impact of rising interest rates on their investment portfolio. Unfortunately, several studies indicate that the answer may be “no.”  According to a new study by brokerage firm Edward Jones, 63% of Americans don’t know how rising interest rates will affect their retirement portfolios, including their 401(k)s and IRAs. Moreover, 24% say they feel completely in the dark about what rising interest rates actually mean.

Financial advisers should be paying attention and taking steps to make sure their clients understand the current financial climate, especially the impact of rising interest rates on bonds. In some cases, that’s happening. In other instances, advisers appear to be completely out of touch with the state of the bond market. In that scenario, investors could very well be caught off guard and pay the ultimate price.

“The biggest risks to the clients is the adviser being either oblivious or in denial about how bonds work. And the client has faith in the adviser . . . High-quality bond funds are the worst investments on the planet right now,” said Robert Isbitts, founder and chief investment strategist at Sungarden Investment Research, in an Aug. 27 interview with Investment News.

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