Bond Market

Course Outline

Dictionary of Economics

Course (113 videos)

Bond Market

This is "Intro to the Bond Market" from our Principles of Economics: Macroeconomics course.

Most borrowers borrow through banks. But established and reputable institutions can also borrow from a different intermediary: the bond market. That’s the topic of this video. We’ll discuss what a bond is, what it does, how it’s rated, and what those ratings ultimately mean.

First, though: what’s a bond? It’s essentially an IOU. A bond details who owes what, and when debt repayment will be made. Unlike stocks, bond ownership doesn’t mean owning part of a firm. It simply means being owed a specific sum, which will be paid back at a promised time. Some bonds also entitle holders to “coupon payments,” which are regular installments paid out on a schedule.

Now—what does a bond do? Like stocks, bonds help raise money. Companies and governments issue bonds to finance new ventures. The ROI from these ventures, can then be used to repay bond holders. Speaking of repayments, borrowing through the bond market may mean better terms than borrowing from banks. This is especially the case for highly-rated bonds.

But what determines a bond’s rating?

Bond ratings are issued by agencies like Standard and Poor’s. A rating reflects the default risk of the institution issuing a bond. “Default risk” is the risk that a bond issuer may be unable to make payments when they come due. The higher the issuer’s default risk, the lower the rating of a bond. A lower rating means lenders will demand higher interest before providing money. For lenders, higher ratings mean a safer investment. And for borrowers (the bond issuers), a higher rating means paying a lower interest on debt.

That said, there are other nuances to the bond market—things like the “crowding out” effect, as well as the effect of collateral on a bond’s interest rate. These are things we’ll leave you to discover in the video. Happy learning!

Teacher Resources


As we've seen, most individuals who want a loan -- they borrow money from a bank. But for a well-known corporation, like Starbucks, borrowing money may be available through another type of financial intermediary: the bond market. A bond is essentially an IOU. It documents who owes how much and when payment must be made. Like stocks, bonds are traded on markets. For an established company, like Starbucks, investors -- they already know enough about the company that they're willing to bypass the bank as an intermediary and lend to the company directly.


So, for a large company with a good reputation, this could mean they can borrow money on better terms from the bond market than they can through traditional bank lending. Starbucks, for example, has issued over a billion dollars of corporate bonds over the years, in order to fund their expansion plans. Now unlike a stock, if you buy a newly issued bond from Starbucks, you don't own part of Starbucks. You're simply lending Starbucks money, and in exchange, they're promising to pay you back a specific sum at a particular point in time.


In addition, some bonds also pay out regular installments, called coupon payments, according to a preordained schedule. By issuing bonds, a company can raise capital and make big investments. And then they can repay that debt over a long timeline as those investments provide a return. Corporations aren't the only institutions that borrow money in the bond market. Governments do so as well. In 2016, the U.S. government owed the public almost $14 trillion in promised bond payments. And because the government is so big, when it borrows money, it affects the entire market for saving and borrowing.


Let's go back to the supply and demand for loanable funds. We'll use some numbers here for illustration. Here's the demand curve showing the demand for borrowing. Now, imagine that the government decides to borrow $100 billion. This shifts the demand for loanable funds up and to the right, increasing the equilibrium interest rate from 7% to 9%. A higher interest rate -- that means that the quantity of savings supplied will increase, in this case, from $200 to $250 billion. Now remember that if savings increases by $50 billion, that means that private consumption is falling by $50 billion. If we're saving more, that means we're consuming less. And because borrowing has become more expensive due to the higher interest rate, private investment will also fall. At a 9% interest rate, we can see that the private demand for loanable funds is $150 billion, $50 billion less than it was at an interest rate of 7%. We call these two effects “crowding out”.


When the government borrows $100 billion, it crowds out private consumption and private investment. In this case, it crowds out $50 billion of private consumption and also $50 billion of private investment. Bonds aren't as risky as stocks because the bondholders must be paid before any profits are distributed to shareholders. But bonds do have risk, namely the risk that when the payments come due, the borrower won't be able to pay. That's called the default risk. If investors think that a firm issuing a bond has a significant default risk, they'll demand a higher interest rate to lend money. Bonds are rated by agencies, such as the S&P. The S&P ratings go from AAA, which are the safest bonds, all the way down to D, and anything lower than a BBB- those are sometimes called “junk bonds.” If you're curious, Starbucks gets an A-Lending money to Starbucks -- it's pretty safe.


But you never know what might happen if all those pod people start making a lot more coffee at home. Now, the rating agencies aren't perfect. That became all too obvious during the recent financial crisis. However, generally speaking, you'll find that better-rated bonds -- they pay lower interest rates. And lower-rated, riskier bonds -- they pay higher interest rates. The state of Illinois has the lowest bond rating of any state government in the United States, an A- And it has to pay significantly more to borrow money than does Virginia, which has the highest rating, a AAA. Another factor that determines the interest rate on a bond is whether the borrower can put up collateral, an asset that helps to guarantee the loan. If you want to borrow money to buy a house, you'll typically get a lower interest rate than if you want to borrow money to buy a vacation.


How come? It's the same principle. The mortgage loan is less risky for the bank than the vacation loan because if you default, the bank can repossess your house. The house is collateral. But once you've been to Maui, the bank can't repossess your vacation. So, it's cheaper to borrow money to buy a house than to go on vacation.


Okay, we've covered banks, we've covered stocks, we've covered bonds…But actually, there's many other financial intermediaries that we could talk about, including hedge funds, venture capital, mortgages, and a lot more. What are you curious about? Let us know.


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