Interest Rate Risk Between Long-Term and Short-Term Bonds

Do Long-Term Bonds Have A Greater Interest Rate Risk Than Short-Term Bonds?

The answer is yes, and there are two main reasons why.First, over the long term, there’s a better chance that interest rates will rise. And when interest rates go up, bond prices go down. Investors who try to sell their long-term bonds are often stuck selling at a discounted price. Short-term bonds don’t face the same risk of rising interest rates.Second, long-term bonds have a greater duration than short-term bonds. Duration measures how long a change in interest rates will affect a bond. If interest rates rise a quarter of a percent, a bond with only one payment left will only have one installment that’s underpaid. A bond with 20 payments left will have 20. As such, a change in interest rates will have more effect on long-term bonds.

Reviewed by Robert C. KellyFact checked by Suzanne Kvilhaug

Long term bonds are most sensitive to interest rate changes. The reason lies in the fixed-income nature of bonds: when an investor purchases a corporate bond, for instance, they are actually purchasing a portion of a company’s debt. This debt is issued with specific details regarding periodic coupon payments, the principal amount of the debt, and the time period until the bond’s maturity.

Here, we detail why it is that bonds with longer maturities expose investors to greater interest rate risk than short-term bonds.

Key Takeaways

  • When interest rates rise, bond prices fall (and vice-versa), with long-maturity bonds most sensitive to rate changes.
  • This is because longer-term bonds have a greater duration than short-term bonds that are closer to maturity and have fewer coupon payments remaining.
  • Long-term bonds are also exposed to a greater probability that interest rates will change over their remaining duration.
  • Investors can hedge interest rate risk through diversification or the use of interest rate derivatives.

Interest Rates and Duration

An important concept for understanding interest rate risk in bonds is that bond prices are inversely related to interest rates. When interest rates go up, bond prices go down, and vice versa.

There are two primary reasons why long-term bonds are subject to greater interest rate risk than short-term bonds:

  1. There is a greater probability that interest rates will rise (and thus negatively affect a bond’s market price) within a longer time period than within a shorter period. As a result, investors who buy long-term bonds but then attempt to sell them before maturity may be faced with a deeply discounted market price when they want to sell their bonds. With short-term bonds, this risk is not as significant because interest rates are less likely to substantially change in the short term. Short-term bonds are also easier to hold until maturity, thereby alleviating an investor’s concern about the effect of interest rate-driven changes in the price of bonds.
  2. Long-term bonds have a greater duration than short-term bonds. Duration measures the sensitivity of a bond’s price to changes in interest rates. For instance, a bond with a duration of 2.0 years will decrease by 2% for every 1% increase in rates. Because of this, a given interest rate change will have a greater effect on long-term bonds than on short-term bonds. This concept of duration can be difficult to conceptualize but just think of it as the length of time that your bond will be affected by an interest rate change. For example, suppose interest rates rise today by 0.25%. A bond with only one coupon payment left until maturity will be underpaying the investor by 0.25% for only one coupon payment. On the other hand, a bond with 20 coupon payments left will be underpaying the investor for a much longer period. This difference in remaining payments will cause a greater drop in a long-term bond’s price than it will in a short-term bond’s price when interest rates rise.

How Interest Rate Risk Impacts Bonds

Interest rate risk arises when the absolute level of interest rates fluctuates. Interest rate risk directly affects the values of fixed income securities. Since interest rates and bond prices are inversely related, the risk associated with a rise in interest rates causes bond prices to fall and vice versa.

Interest rate risk affects the prices of bonds, and all bondholders face this type of risk. As mentioned above, it’s important to remember that as interest rates rise, bond prices fall. When interest rates rise, and new bonds with higher yields than older securities are issued in the market, investors tend to purchase the new bond issues to take advantage of the higher yields.

For this reason, the older bonds based on the previous level of interest rate have less value, so investors and traders sell their old bonds, and the prices of those decrease.

Conversely, when interest rates fall, bond prices tend to rise. When interest rates fall, and new bonds with lower yields than older fixed-income securities are issued in the market, investors are less likely to purchase new issues. Hence, the older bonds with higher yields tend to increase in price.

For example, assume the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting is next Wednesday, and many traders and investors fear interest rates will rise within the next year. After the FOMC meeting, the committee decides to raise interest rates in three months. Therefore, the prices of bonds decrease because new bonds are issued at higher yields in three months.


Starting in March 2022, the Fed began increasing interest rates due to rising inflation, after rates had remained close to zero since 2018. The target rate was eventually increased to 5.33% by August 2023, when the FOMC paused further interest rate increases.

How Investors Can Reduce Interest Rate Risk

Investors can reduce or hedge, interest rate risk with forward contracts, interest rate swaps, and futures. Investors may desire reduced interest rate risk to reduce the uncertainty of changing rates affecting the value of their investments. This risk is greater for investors in bonds, real estate investment trusts (REITs), and other stocks in which dividends make up a healthy portion of cash flows.

Primarily, investors are concerned about interest rate risk when they are worried about inflationary pressures, excessive government spending, or an unstable currency. All of these factors have the ability to lead to higher inflation, which results in higher interest rates. Higher interest rates are particularly deleterious for fixed income, as the cash flows erode in value.

Forward contracts are agreements between two parties, with one party paying the other to lock in an interest rate for an extended period of time. This is a prudent move when interest rates are favorable. Of course, an adverse effect is the company cannot take advantage of further declines in interest rates. An example of this is homeowners taking advantage of low-interest rates by refinancing their mortgages. Others may switch from adjustable-rate mortgages to fixed-rate mortgages as well. Futures are similar to forward contracts, except they are standardized and listed on regulated exchanges. This makes the arrangement more expensive, though there’s less chance of one party failing to meet obligations. This is the most liquid option for investors.

Interest rate swaps are another common agreement between two parties in which they agree to pay each other the difference between fixed interest rates and floating interest rates. Basically, one party takes on the interest rate risk and is compensated for doing so. Other interest rate derivatives that are employed are options and forward rate agreements (FRAs). All of these contracts provide interest rate risk protection by gaining in value when bond prices fall.

How Do Interest Rates Affect Bond Prices?

Interest rates have an inverse relationship to bond prices. In other words, when interest rises, the market price of existing bonds falls, and when interest rates go down, bond prices tend to rise. This is because interest rates represent the opportunity cost of investing in those bonds, compared with other assets. When bonds are less profitable than other investments, bondholders must accept a discount if they want to sell their bonds. When bond yields are higher than prevailing interest rates, bondholders can sell their bonds at a premium because they are more profitable than other investments in the market.

What Bonds Have the Least Amount of Risk?

The least-risky bonds are short-term sovereign bonds, such as U.S. Treasurys, U.K. Gilts, and other government-backed securities. Because the governments that issue them are unlikely to go bankrupt, these assets have extremely low default risk. Moreover, because they have a short maturity date, they are unlikely to lose value due to interest rate fluctuations. The downside is that these assets also have lower yields than other debt instruments.

What Does an Inverted Yield Curve Mean?

An inverted yield curve occurs when the yield of short-term Treasury bonds spikes higher than the yield on long-term Treasurys. These yields are determined through monthly online auctions by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In ordinary circumstances, the yields on long-term bonds are higher, reflecting the opportunity cost of locking up money for a longer time period. However, in times of uncertainty, market actors are more willing to buy longer-term bonds if they expect a downturn. An inverted yield curve is considered a fairly reliable predictor of near-term recessions.

The Bottom Line

Investors holding long term bonds are subject to a greater degree of interest rate risk than those holding shorter term bonds. This means that if interest rates change by 1%, long term bonds will see a greater change to their price—rising when rates fall and falling when rates rise. Explained by their greater duration measure, interest rate risk is often not a big deal for those holding bonds until maturity. For those who are more active traders, hedging strategies may be employed to reduce the effect of changing interest rates on bond portfolios.

Read the original article on Investopedia.