What Is a Perpetual Bond?

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DEFINITION
A perpetual bond is an unusual type of bond that doesn’t have a maturity date.

A perpetual bond is an unusual type of bond that doesn’t have a maturity date. While investors never get their principal back, theoretically, interest payments continue forever.

When you invest in a bond, there’s typically a maturity date. That’s when your principal investment is repaid and interest payments end. However, perpetual bonds have no end date. 

Keep reading to find out how perpetual bonds work, and learn more about the pros and cons of investing in these assets.

Definition and Example of a Perpetual Bond

A perpetual bond is a rare type of bond that offers regular interest payments indefinitely but doesn’t have a maturity date.

A bond is a loan investors make to a corporation, the federal government, a government agency, or a municipality. Most bonds offer investors regular fixed interest payments called “coupons” throughout the bond’s lifespan. The majority of bonds have a maturity date, which is when the investors’ principal is repaid, but perpetual bonds are non-redeemable.

  • Alternate names: perps, perpetual notes, consols, consol bonds

Investors often include bonds in their portfolios as a part of a broader investing strategy. Bonds are considered lower risk than investment options such as stocks, and can provide predictable returns.

Perpetual bonds could conceivably provide returns for decades, centuries, or longer. The term is indefinite. In one example of this, Yale University acquired a 1648 perpetual Dutch water bond written on goatskin in 2003. As of 2015, it had continued paying interest. The original terms of the bond stated that it would pay 5% into perpetuity, although interest payments were reduced to 3.5%, then 2.5%.

Most bonds have maturity dates that range from one to 30 years. Bonds with maturity dates of 10 years or more are considered long-term bonds. Perpetual bonds could pay interest for perpetuity.

How Does a Perpetual Bond Work?

A perpetual bond works much like a bond with a maturity date; however, it has the potential to pay returns indefinitely. While it has no redemption date, the issuer may redeem it at some point, as most perpetual bonds have a call feature.

First, an investor purchases a bond that is issued by a government, corporation, or other organization. The issuer then agrees to repay the investors initial funds, along with interest, through fixed regular payments. The terms of the bonds, such as the specific interest rate, are established upfront and can vary from bond to bond. 

The interest payments on perpetual bonds are somewhat similar to stock dividends in that they provide regular payments that contribute to profits. A key difference is that interest payments are typically fixed, while stock dividends can change.

As with any other type of bond, holders of perpetual bonds have a higher-priority claim than shareholders if the issuer goes bankrupt.

In another example of perpetual bonds in use, the U.K. government used perpetual bonds to pay for its debt from World War I. In May 2015, the U.K. announced it would pay off its remaining £1.9 billion of perpetual bonds issued as 3.5% war loans.

Pros and Cons of Perpetual Bonds 

Pros
  • Indefinite interest payments

  • Source of fixed income

  • Low-risk investment

Cons
  • Typically callable

  • Inflation risk

  • Opportunity cost

Pros Explained

  • Indefinite interest payments: Because perpetual bonds have no maturity date, they can theoretically provide investors with regular coupon payments forever.
  • Source of fixed income: Like other types of bonds, perpetual bonds appeal to investors seeking regular fixed income. The terms of the bond, including the amount of interest payments, are determined before the bond is issued.
  • Low-risk investment: While perpetual bonds are subject to credit risk and interest rate risk, the risk of investing is generally lower compared to the risks of stocks. Perpetual bondholders’ claims take precedence over shareholders’ claims in the event of a bankruptcy.

Cons Explained

  • Typically callable: Perpetual bonds generally have a call feature, which allows the issuer to redeem the bond after a certain amount of time has elapsed. 
  • Inflation risk: Investing in perpetual bonds carries inflation risk, which is the risk that your investment won’t earn enough to keep up with inflation. When this occurs, your money loses purchasing power.
  • Opportunity cost: When you invest your money in perpetual bonds, there’s an opportunity cost because you could be missing out on potentially more profitable investments.

Key Takeaways

  • A perpetual bond is a bond with no maturity date that theoretically pays interest forever.
  • Perpetual bonds work similar to regular bonds in that they pay regular fixed-interest payments.
  • Most perpetual bonds are callable, which means the issuer can redeem them after a specified time frame.

Article Sources

  1. Nasdaq. “Perpetual Bond Definition.” Accessed Jan. 5, 2022.

  2. Yale University. “A Living Artifact From the Dutch Golden Age.” Accessed Jan. 5, 2022.

  3. FINRA. “Bond Basics.” Accessed Jan. 5 , 2022.

  4. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. “Consoles: The Never-Ending Bonds.” Accessed Jan. 5, 2022.

  5. United Kingdom Government. “Chancellor to Repay the Nation's First World War Debt.” Accessed Jan. 5, 2022.