Bond Concepts by Madison Investments

Building a bond portfolio with a desired risk-to-reward profile is more complex than simply buying bonds and holding them to maturity. Understanding the risks in fixed income can help an investor avoid pitfalls while optimizing opportunities in pursuit of long-term goals. An investor must determine the maturities, structure, sectors, and credit qualities appropriate for a given risk tolerance and consider how the bonds fit in an overall portfolio.

An active fixed income manager considers these factors daily and can add value to an investment portfolio by managing all of the risks. Below, we discuss the most common examples.

Interest Rate Risk

As interest rates rise, the price of a bond falls. Using duration* to manage interest rate exposure, a manager seeks to take gains in falling rate environments while protecting principal in rising rate environments. During periods of rising rates, an active management strategy can also reduce the opportunity cost of locking into lower rates for longer maturity periods.

Maturity Structure

Using yield curve analysis, an active manager seeks to build a portfolio that can demonstrate an improved risk versus reward balance by taking advantage of anticipated changes in the shape of the yield curve. For instance, a “barbell structure” (overweight short and long bonds while underweight bonds the middle of the curve) may perform well when the yield curve flattens. Short-term bonds can be reinvested at higher rates as they mature, and longer-term bonds can appreciate if long-term rates fall.

Sector Exposure

The relative attractiveness of Government, Agency, Corporate, and Mortgage- and Asset-Backed sectors can also be managed to help pursue gains or preserve principal in various business and economic environments. If a flight to safety is expected to drive the yield of Treasuries lower, Treasury prices will rise relative to other bonds, offering the opportunity to realize gains. When the economy is moving from contraction to expansion, yield premiums (also known as “spreads”) on corporate bonds often narrow, driving their prices higher and allowing them to outperform other sectors.

Credit Spread

The risk-to-reward ratio within investment grade corporate bonds can provide opportunities similar to those offered across sectors. Active managers will increase or decrease a portfolio’s exposure to high quality or lower quality corporate bonds based on anticipated changes in their relative spread levels due to their outlook for the economy, corporate profits, and market supply/demand factors.

Credit Risk

The bond market can be inefficient at the security level. A combination of quantitative and qualitative analyses can often identify opportunities or avoid risks on individual bonds in the same way managers seek to add value to individual stock portfolios.

Reinvestment Risk

A buy-and-hold strategy may result in bonds maturing at a poor time in the interest rate cycle. Often the proceeds are reinvested into another bond or set of bonds without regard for current or prospective market conditions. An active bond manager may invest to take advantage of changing market conditions and look to optimize the reinvestment of maturing bonds.

By accounting for these risks when building and monitoring a fixed income portfolio, an active manager can respond to changing market conditions and put the end client in a better position to pursue their investment objective over a passive approach.


Learn the nuances of fixed income investing, including the risks, opportunities, and investment styles.

*Here we define duration as a measure of how a bond’s price is affected by changes in interest rates. For example, a portfolio with a duration of three years would be expected to rise 3% if interest rates were to fall 1%.

“Madison” and/or “Madison Investments” is the unifying tradename of Madison Investment Holdings, Inc., Madison Asset Management, LLC (“MAM”), and Madison Investment Advisors, LLC (“MIA”). MAM and MIA are registered as investment advisers with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Madison Funds are distributed by MFD Distributor, LLC. MFD Distributor, LLC is registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as a broker-dealer and is a member firm of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The home office for each firm listed above is 550 Science Drive, Madison, WI 53711. Madison’s toll-free number is 800-767-0300.

Any performance data shown represents past performance. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Non-deposit investment products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of, or guaranteed by, any financial institution. Investment returns and principal value will fluctuate.

This website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any security.

In addition to the ongoing market risk applicable to portfolio securities, bonds are subject to interest rate risk, credit risk and inflation risk. When interest rates rise, bond prices fall; generally, the longer a bond’s maturity, the more sensitive it is to this risk. Credit risk is the possibility that the issuer of a security will be unable to make interest payments and repay the principal on its debt. Bonds may also be subject to call risk, which allows the issuer to retain the right to redeem the debt, fully or partially, before the scheduled maturity date. Proceeds from sales prior to maturity may be more or less than originally invested due to changes in market conditions or changes in the credit quality of the issuer.

Yield Curve is a line that plots yields (interest rates) of bonds having equal credit quality but differing maturity dates. The slope of the yield curve gives an idea of future interest rate changes and economic activity. There are three main types of yield curve shapes: normal (upward sloping curve), inverted (downward sloping curve) and flat.

Unlike individual bond positions, a managed bond strategy may have ongoing fees and expenses.