How Bonds Affect the Stock Market
Which Investment Is Better for You?
Bonds affect the stock market by competing with stocks for investors' dollars. Bonds are safer than stocks, but they offer a lower return. As a result, when stocks go up in value, bonds go down.
Stocks do well when the economy is booming. When consumers are making more purchases, companies receive higher earnings thanks to higher demand, and investors feel confident. One of the best ways to beat inflation is to sell bonds and buy stocks when the economy is doing well. When the economy slows, consumers buy less, corporate profits fall, and stock prices decline. That's when investors prefer the regular interest payments guaranteed by bonds.
Sometimes, both stocks and bonds can go up in value at the same time. This happens when there is too much money, or liquidity, chasing too few investments. It happens at the top of the market. It could occur when some investors are optimistic and others are pessimistic.
There also are times when stocks and bonds both fall. That's when investors are in a panic and selling everything. During those times, gold prices often rise.
Understanding Bonds and Stocks
Bonds are loans you make to a corporation or government. The interest payments stay the same for the life of the loan. You receive the principal at the end if the borrower doesn't default. S&P ratings can tell you how likely that is to happen.
A bond's value changes over time, which matters only if you want to sell it on the secondary market. Bond traders compare their returns, called the yield, to that of other bonds. Those with low-interest rates, or poor S&P ratings, are worth less than higher-yielding bonds.
Stocks are shares of ownership in a company. Their value depends largely on corporate earnings, which corporations report each quarter. Stock values change daily depending on traders' estimates of future earnings compared to competing companies.
Bonds Vs. Stocks: Which Is Better for You?
Whether bonds or stocks are a better investment depends on two things. First, what are your personal goals? If you want to avoid losing your principal, enjoy receiving regular payments, and aren't concerned about inflation, then bonds are for you. It might be preferable for you if you are retired or otherwise in need of using the investment income.
Most financial planners will tell you that being well-diversified is the best investment strategy. It means you should have a mix of stocks and bonds in your portfolio at all times. Research has shown that over time, diversification brings the greatest return at the lowest risk. You can change the mix, or asset allocation, of stocks versus bonds to respond to the business cycle and your financial goals.
If you can hold onto your stocks even if the value drops, you don't need income, and you want to outpace inflation, then stocks offer more benefits. If you're young and have a well-paying job, then that’s the right target.
Second, how is the economy doing? In other words, in what phase of the business cycle is it? If it's expanding, then stocks provide more benefits. This is because they are gaining value as earnings improve. If it's contracting, then bonds are a better investment. They will protect your investment while providing income.
The Federal Reserve's Role
The Federal Reserve controls interest rates through its open market operations. When the Fed wants interest rates to fall, it buys U.S. Treasurys. That's the same as increasing demand for the nation's bonds, which makes their values rise. As with all bonds, when the value rises, interest rates fall.
Lower interest rates put upward pressure on stock prices for two reasons. First, bond buyers receive a lower interest rate and less return on their investments. It forces them to consider buying higher-risk stocks to get a better return.
Second, lower interest rates make borrowing less expensive. It helps companies who want to expand. It assists homebuyers to afford larger houses. It also helps consumers who desire cars, furniture, and more education. As a result, low-interest rates boost economic growth. They lead to higher corporate earnings and higher stock prices.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Gold Prices During and After the Great Recession." Accessed March 12, 2020.
FINRA. "Bond Yield and Return." Accessed March 12, 2020.
Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. "What Are Business Cycles and How Do They Affect the Economy?" Accessed March, 12, 2020.