What Is a Callable Bond?
A callable bond, also known as a redeemable bond, is a bond that the issuer may redeem before it reaches the stated maturity date. A callable bond allows the issuing company to pay off their debt early. A business may choose to call their bond if market interest rates move lower, which will allow them to re-borrow at a more beneficial rate. Callable bonds thus compensate investors for that potentiality as they typically offer a more attractive interest rate or coupon rate due to their callable nature.
- A callable bond is a debt security that can be redeemed early by the issuer before its maturity at the issuer’s discretion.
- A callable bond allows companies to pay off their debt early and benefit from favorable interest rate drops.
- A callable bond benefits the issuer, and so investors of these bonds are compensated with a more attractive interest rate than on otherwise similar non-callable bonds.
How a Callable Bond Works
A callable bond is a debt instrument in which the issuer reserves the right to return the investor’s principal and stop interest payments before the bond’s maturity date. Corporations may issue bonds to fund expansion or to pay off other loans. If they expect market interest rates to fall, they may issue the bond as callable, allowing them to make an early redemption and secure other financings at a lowered rate. The bond’s offering will specify the terms of when the company may recall the note.
A callable—redeemable—bond is typically called at a value that is slightly above the par value of the debt. The earlier in a bond’s life span that it is called, the higher its call value will be. For example, a bond maturing in 2030 can be called in 2020. It may show a callable price of 102. This price means the investor receives $1,020 for each $1,000 in face value of their investment. The bond may also stipulate that the early call price goes down to 101 after a year.
Types of Callable Bonds
Callable bonds come with many variations. Optional redemption lets an issuer redeem its bonds according to the terms when the bond was issued. However, not all bonds are callable. Treasury bonds and Treasury notes are non-callable, although there are a few exceptions.
Most municipal bonds and some corporate bonds are callable. A municipal bond has call features that may be exercised after a set period such as 10 years.
Sinking fund redemption requires the issuer to adhere to a set schedule while redeeming a portion or all of its debt. On specified dates, the company will remit a portion of the bond to bondholders. A sinking fund helps the company save money over time and avoid a large lump-sum payment at maturity. A sinking fund has bonds issued whereby some of them are callable for the company to pay off its debt early.
Extraordinary redemption lets the issuer call its bonds before maturity if specific events occur, such as if the underlying funded project is damaged or destroyed.
Call protection refers to the period when the bond cannot be called. The issuer must clarify whether a bond is callable and the exact terms of the call option, including when the timeframe when the bond can be called.
Callable Bonds and Interest Rates
If market interest rates decline after a corporation floats a bond, the company can issue new debt, receiving a lower interest rate than the original callable bond. The company uses the proceeds from the second, lower-rate issue to pay off the earlier callable bond by exercising the call feature. As a result, the company has refinanced its debt by paying off the higher-yielding callable bonds with the newly-issued debt at a lower interest rate.
Paying down debt early by exercising callable bonds saves a company interest expense and prevents the company from being put in financial difficulties in the long term if economic or financial conditions worsen.
However, the investor might not make out as well as the company when the bond is called. For example, let’s say a 6% coupon bond is issued and is due to mature in five years. An investor purchases $10,000 worth and receives coupon payments of 6% x $10,000 or $600 annually. Three years after issuance, the interest rates fall to 4%, and the issuer calls the bond. The bondholder must turn in the bond to get back the principal, and no further interest is paid.
In this scenario, not only does the bondholder lose the remaining interest payments but it would be unlikely they will be able to match the original 6% coupon. This situation is known as reinvestment risk. The investor might choose to reinvest at a lower interest rate and lose potential income. Also, if the investor wants to purchase another bond, the new bond’s price could be higher than the price of the original callable. In other words, the investor might pay a higher price for a lower yield. As a result, a callable bond may not be appropriate for investors seeking stable income and predictable returns.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Callable Bonds
Callable bonds typically pay a higher coupon or interest rate to investors than non-callable bonds. The companies that issue these products benefit as well. Should the market interest rate fall lower than the rate being paid to the bondholders, the business may call the note. They may then, refinance the debt at a lower interest rate. This flexibility is usually more favorable for the business than using bank-based lending.
However, not every aspect of a callable bond is favorable. An issuer will usually call the bond when interest rates fall. This calling leaves the investor exposed to replacing the investment at a rate that will not return the same level of income. Conversely, when market rates rise, the investor can fall behind when their funds are tied up in a product that pays a lower rate. Finally, companies must offer a higher coupon to attract investors. This higher coupon will increase the overall cost of taking on new projects or expansions.
Pay a higher coupon or interest rate
Investor-financed debt is more flexibility for the issuer
Helps companies raise capital
Call features allow recall and refinancing of debt
Investors must replace called bonds with lower rate products
Investors cannot take advantage when market rates rise
Coupon rates are higher raising the costs to the company
Example of a Callable Bond
Let’s say Apple Inc. (AAPL) decides to borrow $10 million in the bond market and issues a 6% coupon bond with a maturity date in five years. The company pays its bondholders 6% x $10 million or $600,000 in interest payments annually.
Three years from the date of issuance, interest rates fall by 200 basis points (bps) to 4%, prompting the company to redeem the bonds. Under the terms of the bond contract, if the company calls the bonds, it must pay the investors $102 premium to par. Therefore, the company pays the bond investors $10.2 million, which it borrows from the bank at a 4% interest rate. It reissues the bond with a 4% coupon rate and a principal sum of $10.2 million, reducing its annual interest payment to 4% x $10.2 million or $408,000.
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