Building bond portfolios using a laddered approach is the right strategy when enough assets are available. This gives you the best chance of mitigating both price risk and reinvestment risk of your bonds.
Before we get into what you need to consider before building a laddered bond portfolio, please keep in mind that this strategy makes sense at a certain asset level. At my firm, for example, the bond portion of the portfolio should be at least $500,000 before implementing a laddered approach (though a laddered CD portfolio can be built with much smaller amounts).
If this strategy makes sense for you, here's what you should watch for in building your portfolio.
Bond/Stock Correlation The longer the maturity of your bonds, the greater their correlation with the equity assets in the portfolio. Thus, while you reduce reinvestment risk when you extend maturity, you increase the price risk of the fixed-income assets and you also increase the risk of the overall portfolio.
Rewards Not Worth the Risk The historical evidence for taxable bonds is that, on average, investors haven't been well rewarded for extending maturities beyond five years. (Remember that the yield curve is typically steeper for municipal bonds.)
Capturing Incremental Returns When It Makes Sense The best predictor of future yield curves is today's yield curve. Thus, you're likely to achieve the highest return by extending maturity until the point where the yield curve is no longer upward sloping.
When to Take Additional Risk
Keep in mind that extending maturity means accepting more risk in your bonds and in your overall portfolio. Thus, it seems prudent to establish a rule of thumb that requires a minimum incremental yield for each additional year of maturity as compensation for the incremental risk:
- For taxable investments, a suggested hurdle is 0.20 percent per year.
- For municipal bonds, a suggested hurdle is 0.15 percent per year.
More on MoneyWatch:
The Economy Isn't the Same as the Market For Bonds, Yield Doesn't Always Equal Return 4 Reasons Investors Avoid Investing Internationally Why Buy-and-Hold Isn't a Good Strategy Are Stocks Really Doomed?
Hear Larry Swedroe discuss current investment trends and topics every Sunday at noon on 550 AM KTRS in St. Louis or streaming via the KTRS Web site. Can't catch the show? Download the podcast via www.investmentadvisornow.com or through the Buckingham Asset Management podcast page on iTunes.