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Canada’s New ‘Yankee’ Bond: Worth a Look?

Canada is making it easier for many Americans to snap up one of its most in-demand products: triple-A-rated government bonds.

On Tuesday, Canada sold a $3 billion five-year “Yankee” bond, the first U.S.-dollar denominated offering by Canada since September 2009. According to a report today in the Wall Street Journal, offers by fund managers and central banks to purchase the latest bond outstripped the number of bonds by a factor of at least three to one. Despite the quick sale, these new crop of bonds should be easier for regular investors to buy and sell than those denominated in the Canadian dollar, says Anthony Valeri, fixed income strategist for LPL Financial. “It’s probably going to be more liquid,” says Valeri.

The new bonds come at a time when U.S. investors have been turning to our northern neighbors for safe, conservative investments. Through October, investors bought $7 billion of the country’s sovereign bonds and government-backed debt, up 12% from the start of last year, according to the most recent data available from fund tracker Morningstar and Ipreo, a market research firm. All the excitement spurred a first last November: an all Canada bond fund launched by fund giant Pacific Investment Management Co., the PIMCO Canada Bond Index fund (CAD).

After the U.S. was stripped of its Triple-A status by Standard & Poor’s, many investors waited for the other credit rating agencies to follow suit. But Canada, with its lower debt levels and stronger banking system, has emerged as a bright spot amid concerns of a global economic slowdown. For American investors, the bonds offer an alternative to U.S. Treasurys, says Valeri. “They’re not under the threat of a downgrade like the U.S. is,” says Valeri. The new bonds seem aimed at American investors who are looking to get the quality of a Canadian bond while not having to worry about currency fluctuations, says Eric Jacobson, director of fixed income research for Morningstar.

Still, investors should keep in mind that the bonds might not be a great fit if they’re looking for higher yields, analysts say. At an average of 2%, yields on 10-year Canadian bonds are in line with Treasurys. And the increased popularity of the bonds has already pushed yields down by roughly a percentage point from a year ago, and bond yields could keep sinking as global interest–and access—grows, analysts say.  Then there is interest rate risk:  Canadian bonds would also drop in value along with U.S. government bonds if Treasury yields increase, says Jacobson.

Even with the new offering, options for buying the bonds are more limited than buying bonds at home. There is no equivalent of where people can purchase Canadian government bonds on their own, but the bonds are generally available on the secondary market, says Valeri. Investors typically must spend a minimum of $1,000, but experts say they can get better pricing with larger purchases. These bonds may also get a bigger presence in mutual funds and ETFs as investors continue showing greater interest in highly rated bonds, says Valeri.


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