Government Bonds vs Corporate Bonds: Which Should You Select?

17 July 2023

Bonds are an essential component of the fixed-income investment landscape. They represent a way for investors to lend money to the issuer, be it governments or corporations, in exchange for periodic interest payments, known as coupon payments, and the return of the initial investment amount upon maturity. And when it comes to these traditional bonds, which have fixed coupon payments and maturities, government bonds and corporate bonds are often at the top of the list. 

Each of these bonds offers unique features and boasts distinct advantages and risks. As such, to make an informed investment decision and ensure your cash is working for you, it's essential to understand the key differences and assess the advantages and disadvantages prior to investing in either.

Understanding Singapore Government Securities and Saving Bonds

Government bonds are debt securities issued by national governments and are typically denominated in the country's currency. In most countries, government bonds are also considered the safest and highest credit-quality investments due to the government's backing. 

In Singapore, you can choose from two types of government-backed bonds: Singapore Government Securities (SGS) and Singapore Savings Bonds (SSBs). The former are triple-A rated bonds, like Temasek Bonds, that are tradable on the Singapore Exchange and can be sold in the secondary market — an example of SGS bonds is the short-term bond called T-bills. While early redemption is not available for this type of bond, prices may fluctuate before maturity. The minimum investment amount and unit size for Singapore Government Securities is S$1,000, and no investment limits are imposed. 

Although Singapore Savings Bonds are also not tradable, they offer the flexibility to redeem the full principal and accrued interest without penalties. They have a minimum investment amount and unit size of S$500; individuals can hold up to S$200,000 of Savings Bonds at any point. 

Are government bonds a good investment?

Investing in government bonds can offer several benefits. One significant advantage of investing in Singapore Savings Bonds is the low credit risk they offer. As mentioned, these bonds are backed by the Singapore Government, providing assurance that your investment amount will be returned in full, eliminating the possibility of any capital loss. This government support ensures the stability and security of your investment, making it an attractive option for risk-averse investors. 

Second, they provide stability and predictable income, making them suitable for conservative investors. With options like the SSB, you are even provided with a long-term investment option of up to 10 years, with increasing interest rates over time, offering higher returns for longer durations. 

Finally, government bonds may offer tax advantages, such as tax-exempt status on interest income.

What are the risks of government bonds?

While government bonds are probably one of the safest instruments you can invest in, there are some risks to be aware of. 

One drawback is the lower yields compared to other riskier investments. Additionally, government bonds like T-bills and SGS bonds include no early redemption option, potential capital loss if sold prematurely, and uncertain yield for T-bills based on supply and demand. And while interest rate changes will have little to no effect on the bond's value, should there be a drop in interest rates, you may not be able to enjoy any price gains of your Singapore Savings Bonds. 

Understanding corporate bonds?

Corporate bonds are debt securities issued by corporations to raise capital. They offer higher yields compared to government bonds but come with additional risks. Corporate bonds are also typically categorised into investment-grade bonds and speculative-grade (high-yield) bonds, depending on the credit quality of the issuing company.

In addition, to invest in corporate bonds listed on SGX, you can follow a similar process to buying shares and incur standard brokerage fees. This allows investors to diversify their portfolios and potentially earn greater returns through corporate bonds.

Are corporate bonds a good investment in Singapore?

Investing in corporate bonds in Singapore offers several advantages. Firstly, regardless of the financial performance of the issuing company, investors receive regular coupon payments, providing a reliable income stream. Moreover, corporate bonds can even provide higher yields compared to government bonds. 

Secondly, corporate bonds are considered to be relatively safer than stocks during economic downturns, as their prices tend to be more stable, preserving capital. Additionally, the predictable payment structures of corporate bonds enable investors to plan their finances effectively. In case of financial difficulties, bondholders also have superior legal claims to a company's assets, adding an extra layer of protection. Lastly, including corporate bonds in a portfolio allows for diversification, reducing overall volatility.

What are the risks of corporate bonds?

Corporate bonds also entail certain risks, and one such risk is credit risk, which pertains to the potential default of the issuing company on its debt payments. It's important to note that companies with lower credit ratings pose a higher credit risk. Additionally, investors should consider liquidity risk, as certain corporate bonds may have limited trading volume in the secondary market. Lastly, economic sensitivity can impact the performance of corporate bonds, as they may be influenced by prevailing economic conditions. 

Is it better to invest in government bonds or corporate bonds?

Deciding between government bonds and corporate bonds depends on various factors, including your investment goals, understanding your risk tolerance, time horizon, and current economic conditions. Both government and corporate bonds have their advantages and risks, and it's crucial to align your investment strategy with your financial objectives.

How do I choose which bond to invest in?

Firstly, identify your investment goals and risk tolerance. Government bonds offer stability and lower risk, suitable for conservative investors, while corporate bonds carry higher yields but also higher credit risk. 

Next, consider your time horizon. Government bonds are ideal for shorter-term goals, while corporate bonds may be more suitable for longer-term goals, allowing for potential capital appreciation. 

Additionally, assess the current economic conditions and interest rate outlook, as government bond prices are sensitive to interest rate changes, while corporate bonds are influenced by the overall economy and issuing company's financial health. Finally, analyse the yield curve and interest rate relationships to identify potential investment opportunities. 

Through thoughtful evaluation of these factors, you can confidently make a well-informed decision regarding the right bond type or combination that aligns with your financial objectives and risk appetite.

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