Smart Bond Investing—Understanding Risk
Inflation and Liquidity Risk
This is the risk that the yield on a bond will not keep pace with purchasing power (in fact, another name for inflation risk is purchasing power risk). For instance, if you buy a five-year bond in which you can realize a coupon rate of 5 percent, but the rate of inflation is 8 percent, the purchasing power of your bond interest has declined. All bonds but those that adjust for inflation, such as TIPS, expose you to some degree of inflation risk.
Some bonds, like U.S. Treasury securities, are quite easy to sell because there are many people interested in buying and selling such securities at any given time. These securities are liquid. Others trade much less frequently. Some even turn out to be "no bid" bonds, with no buying interest at all. These securities are illiquid.
Liquidity risk is the risk that you will not be easily able to find a buyer for a bond you need to sell. A sign of liquidity, or lack of it, is the general level of trading activity: A bond that is traded frequently in a given trading day is considerably more liquid than one which only shows trading activity a few times a week. Investors can check corporate bond trading activity—and thus liquidity—by using FINRA's Market Data Center. For insight into municipal bond liquidity, investors can use trade data found on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board's website.
If you think you might need to sell the bonds you are purchasing prior to their maturity, you should carefully consider liquidity risk, and what steps your broker will take to assist you when liquidating your investment at a fair price that is reasonably related to then-current market prices. It is possible that you may be able to re-sell a bond only at a heavy discount to the price you paid (loss of some principal) or not at all.