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Bond Returns Over the Very Long Run

Posted in Bonds, Equity Premium

Do bonds have a bad rap based on an unfavorable subsample? In the September 2019 revisions of his papers entitled "The US Bond Market Before 1926: Investor Total Return from 1793, Comparing Federal, Municipal, and Corporate Bonds Part I: 1793 to 1857" and "Part II: 1857 to 1926", Edward McQuarrie revisits analysis of returns to bonds in the U.S. prior to 1926. He focuses on investor holding period returns rather than yields, considering U.S. Treasury, state, city and corporate debt. Specifically, he estimates returns to a 19th century diversified bond portfolio comprised of all long-term investment grade bonds trading in any year (free of contaminating factors such as circulation privileges and tax exemptions). Returns assume:

  1. Weights are proportional to amounts outstanding.
  2. Bonds are far from before maturity.
  3. Calculations use actual bond prices.

In other words, he calculates performance of a diversified index fund tracking actual long-term, investment-grade 19th century U.S. bonds. He also calculates returns to sub-indexes as feasible. He further constructs a new stock index for the period January 1793 to January 1871 and revisits conclusions in Stocks for the Long Run about relative performances of stocks and bonds. Using newly and previously compiled U.S. bond and stock prices extending back to January 1793, he finds that:

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