Retail investment in long-dated fixed income securities

When I read headlines like the following: “Investors hungry for returns are piling in Canada long-bond ETFs at a record pace“, I’d start to get concerned if I held these instruments. Investing in long-term government debt at this time feels like return-free risk compared to just stuffing the cash underneath the mattress.

Canada 10-year government bonds are barely trading above a percent:


The US 30-year treasury bond exhibits a similar characteristic – yields have crashed:


The prototypical Canadian long-bond ETF is TSX:XLB and they have done reasonably well. Since long bond yields have plummeted, investors have seen capital gains.

This leaves a few questions. Will yields go negative in North America? How will pensions actually be able to realize their assumed 7-7.5% net returns when they have to maintain a bond allocation with a 1.1% YTM? How much has quantitative easing programs outside of our borders affected our bond yields? What effect will this have on our currency?

Lots of questions, but few answers. Instinctively, I’d rather want my cash in cash rather than long-term treasury bonds. This has not been a winning attitude, but unless if you’re anticipating negative yields like Western Europe, it is tough to imagine rates going lower from here on in.