What Are Bonds and How Do They Compare to Stocks?

Tyler Stokes

What are bonds? 

What are the differences between stocks and bonds? 

These are the 2 questions I want to cover in this article, and I want to make this explanation as easy to understand as possible. 

To be honest, I totally forgot what a bond was while researching this article. As someone who wants to become a day trader, I figured I needed to sharpen up on some basic investing terminology. 

So if you need a quick refresher, don’t worry, I did too. 

I studied bonds in school, but I guess I forgot exactly how they worked. I probably forgot because I don’t own any of them, and they aren’t talked about as much as stocks are.

Bonds Explained for Beginners

A lot of the information out there about bonds and finance in general is a little dry, so I had Grok help make this article a little more fun:

Picture a bond like a loan you might give to a friend, but in this scenario, the friend is more likely a colossal organization like a government or a corporation.

Let’s say this organization is in dire need of funds for a massive project, like constructing a bridge or expanding their business empire. Instead of knocking on a bank’s door, they gather the necessary funds from everyday folks like you and me, who purchase their bonds.

Upon acquiring a bond, you essentially lend your hard-earned cash to that organization. In return, they pledge to reimburse you the full amount on a predetermined date in the future, known as the ‘maturity date.’ Just as your buddy might slip you a little something extra for lending them your money, the organization compensates you with interest, typically paid annually, as a token of appreciation for utilizing your funds.

In a nutshell, a bond is akin to a formal IOU from a big-shot organization, where they borrow your money and commit to repaying you with a small bonus for lending them your financial resources.

The best way to understand this fully is with an example, so I had Grok create an example for us:

Let’s say that you, as a bond investor, have decided to lend money to a fictional company called “EcoPower” by purchasing one of their bonds. EcoPower is a renewable energy company that is looking to expand its operations and needs to borrow money from investors like you.

Principal: The principal of the bond is $1,000. This is the amount that EcoPower is borrowing from you and will be repaid to you at the end of the bond’s term.

Coupon rate: The coupon rate of the bond is 5%. This means that EcoPower will pay you an annual interest of 5% on the principal of $1,000. So, you will receive an annual interest payment of $50 (0.05 x $1,000) until the bond reaches its maturity date.

Maturity date: The maturity date of the bond is 10 years from now. This is the date when EcoPower will repay the principal of $1,000 to you.

In this example, you have lent $1,000 to EcoPower, and in return, you will receive annual interest payments of $50 for the next 10 years. Once the bond reaches its maturity date, EcoPower will repay the principal of $1,000 to you.

This is a simplified example, but it should help you understand the concept of lending a bond with a principal, coupon rate, and maturity date.

Stocks vs. Bonds

When you lend money to a company by purchasing a bond, you are essentially acting as a lender, providing the company with a loan that it promises to repay with interest over a specified period. As a bondholder, you have a legal claim to the repayment of the principal and the interest, making it a relatively safe investment.

On the other hand, when you buy stock in a company, you become a part-owner of the business. This means that you have a share in the company’s profits and losses, and your investment’s value can fluctuate based on the company’s performance. While stocks have the potential for higher returns, they also carry a higher risk of loss.

In summary, bonds are a form of debt financing where the investor is lending money to the company, while stocks are a form of equity financing where the investor is buying a share of ownership in the company.

How Do You Buy and Trade Bonds?

Bonds can be bought with your brokerage firm, just like you buy stocks.

You can buy and sell bonds before their maturity date through your brokerage account as well.

What Determines the Price of a Bond in the Open Market?

First let’s review face value and market value.

  • Face value: It’s like a promise that the bond will give you a certain amount of money when it’s all grown up (or “matures”).
  • Market value: It’s like a popularity contest for bonds. The more people want it, the more they’ll pay for it.

Face value is set in stone when the bond is sold, like a secret handshake between you and the bond. Market value, on the other hand, is a bit of a drama queen, influenced by all sorts of outside factors like interest rates and the economy.

Picture this:

You’re a time traveler, and you’ve just landed in the year 2023. You’ve got a pocket full of futuristic currency, and you’re looking to invest in some bonds. But wait! You’ve just discovered that bond prices are like the mood swings of a teenager. They’re constantly changing!

Why, you ask? Well, it’s because of the cool kids on the block – interest rates. When interest rates are high, your bond coupon is like last year’s fashion trend – nobody wants it. So, you’ll have to sell it for less. But when interest rates are low, your bond coupon is like the latest smartphone – everyone wants a piece of it. You can sell it for more, and you’ll be rolling in the dough!

But that’s not all, my time-traveling friend. Bond prices also depend on how much money they give you each year compared to new bonds. It’s like a never-ending game of “Who’s Got the Better Deal?” If your bond is like an old flip phone, you’ll have to sell it for less. But if it’s like a shiny new smartphone, you can sell it for more.

So, there you have it! Bond prices are like a wild roller coaster ride through time and space. Just remember to buckle up, and always keep an eye on those interest rates and coupon payments.

5 Reasons Why Bond Prices May Change

  1. Interest rates: When interest rates go up, bond prices go down, and when interest rates go down, bond prices go up. It’s like a financial seesaw!
  2. Inflation: Inflation can be a sneaky little devil, eroding the purchasing power of the fixed interest payments on bonds. If inflation is on the rise, bond prices may take a hit.
  3. Credit risk: The creditworthiness of the bond issuer plays a role in the bond’s market value. If the issuer’s credit rating takes a nosedive, the bond’s price may follow suit.
  4. Maturity: Bonds with longer maturities are more sensitive to interest rate changes. So, if interest rates are on the move, bonds with longer maturities may experience a more significant change in market value.
  5. Economic conditions: The overall health of the economy can impact bond prices. In times of economic growth, investors may be more likely to ditch bonds in favor of riskier assets, causing bond prices to fall.

Key Insights

  • Understanding Bonds: Bonds are essentially loans given to large entities like governments or corporations by investors, who in return receive interest payments and the principal amount back at a predetermined future date.
  • Nature of Bonds: Unlike informal loans among friends, bonds are formal legal contracts enforceable by law, ensuring the repayment of the principal and interest to the investor.
  • Function of Bonds: They serve as a mechanism for entities to raise funds without resorting to banks, acting as securitized loans with clear repayment and interest terms.
  • Example of a Bond Investment: Investing in a bond means lending money to an entity, such as the fictional company “EcoPower,” with a promise of annual interest payments and the return of the principal at the bond’s maturity.
  • Bonds vs. Stocks: Buying a bond makes you a lender to the company, with a legal claim to repayment, offering a safer investment compared to stocks, which represent part-ownership in a company and come with higher risks and potential returns.
  • Risk and Return Profile: Bonds are generally considered safer investments with fixed returns, whereas stocks offer the potential for higher returns but also carry a higher risk due to their dependence on the company’s performance.
  • Investment Decision Making: The choice between investing in bonds or stocks depends on the investor’s risk tolerance, investment goals, and the desire for either fixed income (bonds) or potential growth (stocks).
  • Buying and Trading Bonds
    • Bonds can be bought and sold through brokerage firms, similar to stocks.
    • You don’t have to wait until the bond matures; you can trade it earlier.
  • Price of Bonds in the Open Market
    • Face value: The promised amount you get back when the bond matures.
    • Market value: Changes based on demand, interest rates, and other factors.
    • Bond prices fluctuate with interest rates – like a financial seesaw.
  • Factors Influencing Bond Prices
    • Interest Rates: Prices drop when rates rise and vice versa.
    • Inflation: Higher inflation can reduce bond prices.
    • Credit Risk: If a bond issuer’s credit rating falls, so may the bond’s price.
    • Maturity: Longer-term bonds are more sensitive to interest rate changes.
    • Economic Conditions: Healthy economy might lower bond prices as investors seek riskier assets.


Grok – https://x.ai/

About the author

Hi I'm Tyler Stokes. I started my day trading journey in 2024. As a pure beginner I decided to document everything on this website. I plan to share all the ups and downs of becoming a day trader on this website and through social media.