If you own bonds or have money in a bond fund, there is a number you should know. It is called duration. Although stated in years, duration is not simply a measure of time. Instead, duration signals how much the price of your bond investment is likely to fluctuate when there is an up or down movement in interest rates. The higher the duration number, the more sensitive your bond investment will be to changes in interest rates.
If you hold outstanding bonds, particularly those with a low interest rate and high duration, you may experience price drops as interest rates rise along the way. If you have money in a bond fund that holds primarily long-term bonds, expect the value of that fund to decline, perhaps significantly, when interest rates rise.
How Duration Risk Affects Price
Many factors impact bond prices, one of which is interest rates. A maxim of bond investing is that when interest rates rise, bond prices fall, and vice versa. This is known as interest rate risk. But just as some people's skin is more sensitive to sun than others, some bonds are more sensitive to interest rate changes than others. Duration risk is the name economists give to the risk associated with the sensitivity of a bond's price to a one percent change in interest rates.
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