Friday 24 August 2012

When 'Perpetual' Isn't For Ever

A puppy is not just for Christmas (as we say in the UK). And so are most of the financial securities bought for the DIY Income Investor portfolio - usually this is a 'buy and hold' strategy. The simple reason is that this is much easier to manage on a DIY basis compared with a strategy that involves a lot of buying and selling.

However, nothing lasts for ever - like the spinning top, entropy increases and eventually triumphs. And sometimes the financial ground can shake underneath you - an unsettling experience.

There is a class of corporate bonds called 'perpetual', in other words, there is no maturity date identified. When you buy one of these, you buy a fixed stream of income (or yield), in theory for ever. Of course the returns available in the rest of the market can affect the resale price of the bond - and inflation can reduce the real value of both the income and the capital.

Having said all that, a perpetual bond can give you an 'anchor' income, which you can pretty much rely on, underpinning your whole portfolio's performance.

A couple of years ago some of the yields on these perpetuals - most issued by banks - were very attractive indeed, as the future of world banking was suddenly shown to be less secure than anyone had thought. And so it was with the Barclays 7.125% Perpetual Subordinated corporate bond (LSE:EB20), which had yields well above the market rate.

These have ticked along nicely for several years, providing annual dollops of cash to reinvest in other more exciting investments. And they continue to do so today - but with a subtle difference: they are no longer perpetual! 

Yes, I came back from holiday and looked for a price update on Bondscape and the security had disappeared from the 'perpetual' section. Almost by accident I discovered it at the end of the list, now with a maturity of 24th October 2049.

Now, I will be quite happy to survive until then - and if I do, the redemption yield (based on the current price) will be over 9%, which should be more than enough to keep ahead of inflation. The current yield is over 8% - not bad at all in today's market.

But how did this happen? How did this change from the 'perpetual' character of a corporation to something with a 'sell-by' date - something as impermanent as us mortal investors? The facts behind this are probably mundane - but the change, although slight, leave me with a feeling that is difficult to describe: a bit like when you wake up in the night wondering what it is you have forgotten.

Can anyone shed a light on this change?

I am not a financial advisor and the information provided does not constitute financial advice. You should always do your own research on top of what you learn here to ensure that it's right for your specific circumstances.


  1. You need to find the prospectus, but they appear to have an initial call date in 2020 and at every fifth anniversary interest payment date thereafter.

    "All undated loan capital is repayable, at the option of the Bank generally in whole at the initial call date and on any subsequent coupon or interest payment date or in the case of the 6.875%, 6.375%, 7.125%, 6.125% Undated Notes, the 9.25% Bonds and the 6.140% Perpetual Notes on any fifth anniversary after the initial call date."

  2. Perpetual Bonds
    A perpetual bond is a bond with no maturity date. Perpetual bonds are not redeemable (unless called) but pay a steady stream of interest forever. Perpetual bonds are more efficient for the government and companies to issue since it avoids the cost of refinancing costs associated with bond issues that have maturity dates. Like other bonds, perpetual bonds can be sold at any time. Currently, one would recognise a perpetual bond in a bond list due to the maturity date being listed as a 2049. (this is not really the maturity date but just a standardised date to help investors spot these bonds.) Investors should seek clarification from their investment advisor on bonds listed with maturity of 2049.

  3. Beware a "reset" date, possibly buried deep within the prospectus. This allows the provider to set a "new" local maturity date wherin the bond is redeemed at par. Not much fun if you have purchased say with a 32% premium.