The Benefits and Risks of TIPS—Treasury Inflation Protected Securities

Learn the Pros and Cons of TIPS Funds

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Treasury inflation protected securities, aka TIPS, are Treasury bonds that are indexed to inflation. However these fixed income investments do not work the same as conventional bonds. Often purchased in mutual funds, TIPS can provide investors a degree of protection against inflation. Investors are wise to learn the benefits and risks of investing in TIPS.

What Are Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)?

TIPS are Treasury bonds that are designed to preserve purchasing power in the long run by protecting investors against the risk of inflation. They're bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury that have a fixed rate of interest. The dollar amount of the interest payment goes up and down because the principal is always being adjusted according to changes in the Consumer Price Index or CPI . 

The Benefits and Risks of TIPS

TIPS and mutual funds that invest in TIPS can be stable investments because their low relative market risk. However, TIPS are not guaranteed investments and prices can fluctuate, similar to conventional bonds. Investors are wise to understand the primary benefits and risks of TIPS and TIPS mutual funds.

Here are the benefits of TIPS:

  • Low market risk: TIPS are low risk investments because they're treasury bonds, backed by the U.S. government.
  • Low inflation risk: TIPS are indexed for inflation so there's almost no inflation risk as long as your personal rate of inflation is close to the CPI rate .

Here are the risks of TIPS:

  • Price fluctuation: Although TIPS are low-risk investments, their market prices can move substantially with changes in real interest rates. That means that the share price of a mutual fund investing in TIPS can vary significantly over the short term.
  • Deflation risk: The risk of a general decline in prices, deflation, is the opposite of inflation. If there were to be a long period of deflation, TIPS would potentially lose some value.

Factors Influencing TIPS

To gain a greater understanding of TIPS, investors are wise to learn the factors that influence the price and yield of these fixed income investment securities. If investors understand what influences TIPS, they may be better informed about the benefits and risks of holding these investments.

The primary factors influencing tips are interest rate changes and inflation expectations:

  • Interest Rate Changes: TIPS prices respond to changes in interest rates, similar to other bonds. Conventional bonds have the expectation for future inflation rates built into their yields. TIPS respond to changes in the “real” interest rates—current interest rates minus inflation rates .
  • Inflation Expectations: Changing expectations of future inflation are often the primary drivers of demand for TIPS. Conventional bonds have the expectations for future inflation rates built into their yields. The spread between conventional U.S. Treasury bonds and TIPS can mostly be attributed to the expected inflation rate.

Common Misconceptions of TIPS

Although TIPS and other fixed income investments work similar to conventional bonds, investors should understand that TIPS are not guaranteed investments. Although TIPS are indexed to inflation, they are not guaranteed to increase in value during inflationary periods. TIPS respond more to expectations of investors, as opposed to actual movements of inflation. For example, when actual inflation is higher than expected, TIPS will likely outperform conventional bonds, and if actual inflation is lower than expected, TIPS will likely under-perform conventional bonds.

The Bottom Line

A TIPS fund can be a smart addition to a diversified portfolio, providing a positive inflation-adjusted return for long-term investors. TIPS funds are a type of fixed income investment; however, investors should be aware that they do not work the same as mutual funds that invest in corporate bonds. It should not be viewed as a “be all” alternative to broad bond diversification and investors should use other types of bond funds as well. 

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.

Article Sources

  1. The Free Dictionary. "Treasury Inflation-Protected Security." Accessed February 14, 2020.

  2. Vanguard. "TIPS: Inflation Protection Still Has Risks." Accessed February 15, 2020.