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What are putable bonds?

Putable Bonds Explained

Overview of Putable Bonds

A putable bond, simply put, is a type of bond that grants the bondholder, or the investor, the right—but not the obligation—to demand early payment of the principal before the bond’s maturity date. The specifics of this right, including when and how it can be enacted, are outlined in the bond’s indenture, which is the formal contract between the issuer and the bondholder. Putable bonds act as an extra level of security for investors as they allow for more flexibility and control in the management of investment risk, especially in a fluctuating interest rate market.

How Putable Bonds Work

Putable bonds differ from traditional bonds in that they give the bondholder the prerogative to “put” or sell the bond back to the issuer at par value on set dates before the bond’s maturity. This is a particularly potent option if the coupon rate of the bond is higher than the prevailing market rate or due to negative credit events. Therefore, the bondholder can compel those who issued the bond to repay the principal before the bond’s stated maturity date. The bondholder is protected from falling interest rates because the bond can be sold and proceeds can be invested in other securities with higher returns. On the other hand, if interest rates are rising, the putable will decrease in price less than a comparable bond without a put option.

Understanding the Value of Putable Bonds

The value of a putable bond is usually greater than that of a plain vanilla bond because the put option adds value. This additional value is called the put premium. The premium is the amount over and above the price of a regular bond that an investor is willing to pay for a putable bond. The premium reflects the value the market places on the right to put the bond back to the issuer.

In an environment where interest rates are declining, the value of a putable bond will be higher compared to a non-putable bond. When market interest rates are low, the putable bond’s feature of selling it back to the issuer becomes valuable. The risk for the investor is mitigated, as they can push the risk of dropping interest rates back to the issuer.

Benefits of Putable Bonds

Investing in putable bonds presents two main advantages: capital preservation and re-investment opportunities.

1) Capital Preservation

The embedded put option acts as an insurance policy that protects the bondholder from significant losses associated with unfavorable interest rate movements.

2) Re-Investment Opportunities

If interest rates increase, the bondholder can sell the bond back to the issuer and then re-invest the proceeds in a security that offers a higher rate of return.

Drawbacks of Putable Bonds

The primary disadvantage of investing in putable bonds is the potentially lower yield compared to other debt securities. Because the putable bond reduces the risk to the bondholder through the embedded put option, the bond will usually offer a lower yield relative to a similar bond without a put option. Hence, investing in putable bonds may result in missed opportunities for higher income if the bondholder does not or cannot exercise the put option.

Furthermore, putable bonds are usually callable, giving the issuer the right to buy back the bond at a predetermined price before the bond’s maturity, which could limit the bondholder’s potential income.

Conclusion

To sum up, putable bonds can be a valuable addition to a diversified investment portfolio, offering a degree of capital protection and flexibility for investors, particularly in uncertain or declining interest rate environments. These securities do have potential downsides, such as lower yields and issuer callability, but the added security may outweigh these factors for more risk-averse investors. As with all investment decisions, understanding the instrument’s particulars is essential, and potential investors in putable bonds would be well-advised to thoroughly understand the terms and conditions of the bond’s indenture.