Stocks vs. Bonds: Differences and Risks

By: Markus Heitkoetter
In the world of investments, you’ll often hear about stocks and bonds. They are both feasible forms of investment. They allow you the opportunity to invest your money with a specific company or corporation with the possibility of future profits. But how exactly do they work? And what are the differences between the two?

Bonds

Let’s start with bonds. The easiest way to define a bond is through the concept of a loan. When you invest in bonds, you are essentially loaning your money to a company, corporation, or government of your choosing. That institution, in turn, will give you a receipt for your loan, along with a promise of interest, in the form of a bond.

Bonds are bought and sold in the open market. Fluctuation in their values occurs depending on the interest rate of the general economy. Basically, the interest rate directly affects the worth of your investment. For instance, if you have a thousand dollar bond which pays the interest of 5% yearly, you can sell it at a higher face value provided the general interest rate is below 5%.

And if the rate of interest rises above 5%, the bond, though it can still be sold, is usually sold at less than its face value.

The logic behind this system is that the investors deal with a higher rate of interest then the actual bond pays. Thus, the bond is sold at lower value in order to offset the gap. The OTC market, which is comprised of banks and security firms, is the favourite trading trading place for bonds, because corporate bonds can be listed on the stock exchange, and can be purchased through stock brokers.

With bonds, unlike stocks, you, as the investor, will not directly benefit from the success of the company or the amount of its profits. Instead, you will receive a fixed rate of return on your bond. Basically, this means that whether the company is wildly successful OR has an abysmal year of business, it will not affect your investment. Your bond return rate will be the same. Your return rate is the percentage of the original offer of the bond. This percentage is called the coupon rate.

It is also important to remember that bonds have maturity dates. Once a bond hits its maturity date, the principal amount paid for that bond is returned to the investor. Different bonds are issued different maturity dates. Some bonds can have up to 30 years of maturity period.

When dealing in bonds, the greatest investment risk that you face is the possibility of the principal investment amount NOT being paid back to you. Obviously, this risk can be somewhat controlled through the careful assessment of the companies or institutions that you choose to invest in.

Those companies that possess more credit worthiness are generally safer investments when it comes to bonds. The best example of a "safe" bond is the government bond. Another is the blue chip company bond. Blue chip companies are well-established companies that have proven and successful track records over a long span of time. Of course, such companies will have lower coupon rates.

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