What is interest rate risk and how do you mitigate it?
When market interest rates go up, the value of fixed-rate bonds falls. This simple rule can help you hedge against interest rate risk. Learn what interest rate risk is, and how to mitigate it.
What’s on this page?
What is interest rate risk?
Interest rate risk is the chance that your capital can lose value due to changing interest rates.
Interest rates are one of the primary drivers of a bond’s price – when the interest rates rise, bond prices in the secondary market will immediately drop so that the yields can remain competitive with newly-issued bonds, which are pegged to the latest, higher interest rates.
There are two key risks involved in bonds: credit risk; which is the risk that the company or government won’t be able to repay the capital by the end of the bond term; and interest rate risk; which will lower the value of any fixed-rate returns.
In the absence of a substantial credit risk, bondholders should always ensure that they are aware of the interest rate risk, and take steps to offset it.
Interest rates and bond prices move in opposite directions
One key principle of bond investing is that market interest rates and bond prices will always move in opposite directions. When market interest rates rise, the price of fixed-rate bonds fall.
According to the SEC, interest rate risk is common to all bonds – even government issued bonds.
Long-term bonds carry more risk, as the longer the term time, the greater the chances of interest rate hikes occurring are, which will lower the value of the bond. This is where it can be useful to hold a variety of bonds which mature over different periods of time.
Moreover, bonds will typically pay out a fixed dividend or coupon until the bond reaches maturity. Because you could be earning a higher interest rate elsewhere, these fixed coupon amounts now ‘underpay’ your investment. If your bond has only a few coupon payments left, the cumulative effect of this underpayment isn’t as bad as it would be if your bond had many coupons left to pay.
Bond issuers will often make longer-term bond coupons as attractive as possible to investors to help to offset the negative impact of interest rate increases. However, seasoned bond investors will attempt to further reduce the risk of interest rate rises by holding a variety of short-term, medium-term and long-term bonds.
As noted, short-term bond holdings are less likely to be devalued due to interest rate risk, simply because there is less time for multiple interest rate rises to take place, and because they make fewer coupon payments, lessening the cumulative effects of potential coupon underpayments.
As a result of this relationship, traders and investors should be particularly wary of interest rate risk when they are buying bonds.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of bond holdings – government bonds and corporate bonds.
Sometimes called sovereign bonds, treasury notes, or gilts, these are debt instruments issued by governments that are seeking to raise cash. The more stable the country’s economy is deemed to be, the lower the risk that the government will default on repayments, and the lower the rate on the bond.
Like government bonds, corporate bonds can be issued by any company seeking to raise money. Companies are given a credit rating by ratings agencies such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s or Fitch Ratings. As with government bonds, the higher the credit rating of the company, the lower the returns, reflecting the lower perceived risk. The higher the rate, the higher the risk that the company could default on its bond repayments.
How to mitigate interest rate risk
You can offset the risk of interest rate rises by ensuring that you have a diversified investment portfolio, which includes both bonds and equities. You can also use hedging tools to offset the risk of rising rates.
You can diversify by adding securities that are less vulnerable to interest rate fluctuations.
Equity investments are uncorrelated with interest rate risk as their performance depends on the success of the company and general stock market movements, rather than inflation and market interest rates. A diversified investment portfolio will contain a mix of both bonds and equities.
If you hold a ‘bonds only’ portfolio, you can also diversify by including a balance of both short-term and long-term bonds.
You can mitigate interest rate risk by setting up investments that hedge against the possibility that your bonds could lose value. This is a defensive investment strategy that’s designed to minimise losses, rather than maximise profits.
You can hedge against interest rate risk by purchasing different types of derivatives. This way, you won’t be as vulnerable to rising rates devaluing their bond returns.
You can use derivatives such as CFDs to speculate on whether a particular investment is likely to rise or fall in value. By pairing this strategy with a bond portfolio, you can effectively minimise the risk of losses no matter how high interest rates rise.
Techniques for trading on interest rates
You can use both interest rate futures and bond futures to trade interest rate movements. There are four main techniques that can be used here:
- Speculating on rising interest rates by going short on a bond future or long on an interest rate future
- Speculating on falling interest rates by going long on a bond future or short on an interest rate future
- Hedging against interest rate risk by creating and maintaining a diversified portfolio made up of bonds and equities
- Hedging against inflation by using CFDs to diversify your bond holdings
Open a trading account with us to start trading interest rate futures
Interest rate risk summed up
- Inflation is rising, causing interest rates to go up and fixed-rate bonds to lose value
- Interest rate risk happens to all fixed-price assets
- You can manage your exposure to interest rate risk by creating diversified portfolios and using hedging tools
- CFDs can be used to help hedge against rising interest rates
IGA, may distribute information/research produced by its respective foreign affiliates within the IG Group of companies pursuant to an arrangement under Regulation 32C of the Financial Advisers Regulations. Where the research is distributed in Singapore to a person who is not an Accredited Investor, Expert Investor or an Institutional Investor, IGA accepts legal responsibility for the contents of the report to such persons only to the extent required by law. Singapore recipients should contact IGA at 6390 5118 for matters arising from, or in connection with the information distributed.
The information/research herein is prepared by IG Asia Pte Ltd (IGA) and its foreign affiliated companies (collectively known as the IG Group) and is intended for general circulation only. It does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any particular person. You should take into account your specific investment objectives, financial situation, and particular needs before making a commitment to trade, including seeking advice from an independent financial adviser regarding the suitability of the investment, under a separate engagement, as you deem fit.
Please see important Research Disclaimer.
Explore the markets with our free course
Learn how shares work – and discover the wide range of markets you can trade on – with IG Academy's free ’introducing the financial markets’ course.
Put learning into action
Try out what you’ve learned in this shares strategy article risk-free in your demo account.
Ready to trade shares?
Put the lessons in this article to use in a live account – upgrading is quick and easy.
- Trade on over 16,000 popular global stocks
- Protect your capital with risk management tools
- React to breaking news with out-of-hours trading on 70 key US stocks
Inspired to trade?
Put your new knowledge into practice. Log in to your account now.