How to buy Government Bonds in India

Government Bonds
What are Bonds?
A bond is a debt security, in which the authorised issuer company, financial institution, or Government, offers regular or fixed payment of interest in return for the money borrowed by the said issuer. It is for a certain period of time.
How do bonds work?

o   When you purchase a bond, the authorised issuer borrows money from you for a fixed period of time.
o   This money earns you a predetermined interest rate at regular intervals.
o   The principal amount is repaid at the end of the maturity period.
Are bonds and stocks the same?
It was stated earlier that bonds are as good as debts. So, if you are a bondholder, it means that you are a lender of funds to the issuer entity. On the other hand, if you own a stock, it indicates that you have a share in the ownership of such issuer organization.
Bonds are having predefined maturity periods while stocks don’t. Anyways, if you invest in stocks, you can sell them off any day. But, if you are a holder of bonds, you have to wait for its maturity period to end to get back your investments
How to buy government bonds in India
When a person wants to buy a risk free investment, which is the best investment vehicle? Government bonds will be the best choice. Why?
There are two reasons for it: 
 (a) Bonds are regulated and managed by Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
 (b) Government bonds are issued by the central government in India.

Government Bonds

What are bonds and T-bills? These are Securities (G-secs) issued by the government of India to borrow money from investors. Who are investors?

§  Big Investors: Banks, insurance companies, mutual funds, trusts, corporates etc. These are called big because their size of investment (in G-Secs) are large compared to small investors.
§  Small Investors: HNI’s, NRIs, HUF members, individuals etc. In this group of people, ‘individual investors’ are the ones where we common men are placed.
Government borrows money from these investors by offering them G-secs through “auctions“. How the auction is done? Through “competitive bidding” process.
Government Bonds – Process of Purchase

Before Nov’2017, Government Securities (G-Secs) like bonds and T-bills were virtually non-accessible for common men (small investors). But then RBI started the “Non-competitive Bidding Facility“. This made G-secs more accessible for common men.

Lets understand more about competitive and non-competitive bidding process:
§  Competitive bidding: Example: Government issues a bond of Face Value of Rs.1,000, offering an interest @8.0% p.a. In the competitive bidding process (auction), “investors” will quote a price higher than the face value (Rs.1,000). Suppose based on all bids, RBI accepts a cut-off price as Rs.1,060. In this case everyone who has quoted Rs.1,060 or more will get their quoted lot of the bond. [Note: In this case, their yield will be lower than 8.0%. How much lower? 7.54% (=8.0% / 1,060 * 1000)].
§  Non-competitive bidding: RBI’s “non-competitive bidding facility” for retail investors like me and you. Small investors just need to access the mobile and web app of NSE.

How Retail Investor can buy government bonds

Small investors like me and you can buy government bonds in India using a mobile app or a web based app of National Stock Exchange (NSE). This app is called “NSE goBID“. Either of these two apps can be used to buy the following:
§  Long-dated government bonds: holding time: 5 to 40 year.
§  Treasury bills (T-bills): holding time less than 1 year.
Before one can go ahead and buy the government bonds using NSE goBID, the “process of registration” must be completed. But do not worry, everything is online. 
Government Bonds

When bonds are useful for Retail Investor
Generally speaking, when common men invest money, they do it for wealth creation. Hence, they often invest with a long term perspective (5+ years). Equity based investment options can give much higher returns than bonds.
In India, a government bond will yield returns between 7-8% per annum even in long term. But a good equity based plan can easily give 14% p.a. in a time horizon of 5+ years.
Hence, there are less takers of Government bonds when it comes to retail investors. But over last decade, even common men have started building their investment portfolio. They are buying range of securities to keep their portfolio well diversified.
On one side when there is equity, there can be no better investment diversification alternative than government backed securities. This is where common men must consider investing in T-secs and government bonds.

What type of Bonds are best for Retail Investor?

If common man decides to invest in bonds for income generation, best alternative will be tax free government bonds. Why? Because the interest income generated from such government bonds are free of income tax.
This becomes specially lucrative for those people who are in the maximum tax bracket (30%+). 
Suppose there are two bonds available for investing. One is tax free bond, and the other is non-tax free bond. Generally the yield of tax free bonds is less than non-tax free bonds. Which one must select? The decision making should be done based on the following formula:
Net Yield = Bond yield * (1 – your tax rate)
Suppose there is a person’s whose tax rate is 30%. For tax-free bonds, Net yield = bond yield. For non-tax free bonds, net yield = bond yield * (1 – 0.3) = bond yield * 0.7. Example:
§  Tax Free Bond
§  Yield = 8%
§  Net Yield = 8%
§  Non Tax Free Bond
§  Yield = 10%
§  Net Yield = 7%
Where to find a list of tax free bonds in India?

On the NSEgoBID app’s dashboard, list of government bonds will be available. Generally all government bonds are of tax free in nature.
Apart from government bonds, there are also corporate bonds. We also know corporate bonds as Company Deposits.
One of the reliable sources to get a list of all tax free bonds is karvy. By default this list is sorted for top performing bonds. Make sure to click the “[+] show all” options to get the list of all bonds. 
Government Bonds
Following information’s of bonds are easily accessible from this list (click on each bond to see the details): 
Example: Indiabulls Housing Finance Ltd:
§  Face Value: Rs.1,000
§  Coupon rate (interest): 8.55% p.a.
§  Credit Rating: CARE AAA
§  Last Price: Rs.1.040
§  Allotment Date: 26-Sep-2016
§  Redemption Date: 26-Sep-2019.
§  Tenor: 36 months (3 Years).
§  Trading volume: 20

How to sell government bonds?

Before we discuss how to sell bonds, let’s understand a close analogy between stocks and bonds. 
Government Bonds
Most of the government bonds are listed in stock exchange (secondary market) for trading. In normal circumstances, a person should buy a government bond, and hold it till its full tenure (example 5,10,15, 20, 30 years as applicable). 
But those bonds which are listed in secondary market, can be sold to the interested buyers. What we can understand from this?
1.    A person can buy bonds both in primary market or in secondary market. 
2.    A person need not hold the bonds for its full tenure. It can be sold in between, to another buyer in secondary market. 
So this becomes as good as stocks right? Not really. Why? Because of the low trading volumes of bonds in the secondary market. So what? This means, even if one wants to buy/sell bonds in secondary market, there will be less traders available for it.
Low trading volumes are due to low demand for bonds. Moreover, real bond investors generally buy bonds (like tax free, long dated government bonds) for very long holding times. They do not like to sell mid-way.

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