What Are Real Return Bonds?

Real Return Bonds (RRB’s) are bonds that are issued by the Government of Canada and certain provinces.  They are issued with a fixed coupon rate, pay semi-annual interest and have a specified maturity date just like regular bonds.  The difference is that they pay a rate of return that is adjusted for inflation (changes in the Consumer Price Index-CPI) so you are assured that your purchasing power is maintained regardless of the future rate of inflation.

Real Return Bonds pay a semi-annual interest based on an inflation adjusted principal, and at maturity they repay the principal in inflation adjusted dollars.

How Do They Work?

The coupon rated rate remains fixed.  What changes is the principal.  For example, assume a RRB of $10,000 paying a coupon rate of 3%.  If the CPI rises 1% in the first six months, the principal would be adjusted to $10,100 and the coupon payment would be $151.50 (half of the annual 3% interest).

Six months later, if the CPI goes up by another 2% the principal now becomes $10,302 and the interest payment would be $154.53, and so on.

The inflation-adjusted principal amount accrues and is paid out at maturity.

Benefits of Real Return Bonds

  • Predefined real return
  • Less volatile than regular bonds
  • Returns correlated to inflation
  • Purchasing power protection
  • Guaranteed by the Government of Canada

Risks Associated With Real Return Bonds

  • Typically have long maturities (up to 2044)
  • Low current yields (average 1.79%)
  • Can be hit with a hefty capital loss if sold before maturity and interest rates have risen
  • If the inflation rate drops you will receive less interest income and possibly a reduced principal at maturity

How Are They Taxed?

Interest is taxed as ordinary income at the highest marginal tax rate.  The inflation adjustments to the principal are taxed as they accrue even though you won’t receive them until the bond matures.  Therefore, they are best held inside a tax-sheltered account.

Purchasing Real Return Bonds

Investors can buy individual bonds from their broker.  Alternatively you can purchase RRB Mutual Funds, but with MERs of around 1.5%, a third or more of the return will be eaten up by fund expenses.  TD Real Return Bond fund was the first Canadian RRB fund and has an MER of 1.46%.

ETF’s have more modest MERs.  iShares DEX RRB Index ETF (XRB) has an MER of 0.35%.  BMO RRB Index ETF (ZRR) has an MER of 0.25%.

Real return bonds are mainly a buy-and-hold investment.  They are best purchased when inflation is expected to rise.  They can complement a 5-year bond ladder and offer stability to investment returns.

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  1. Karan Batra on August 23, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Real Return bonds are better as compared to normal bonds as they offer returns over and above the Inflation Rate and therefore the real value of money never gets depreciated whereas in non-real return bonds the value of money may get depreciated in extreme cases wherein the Inflation Rate is more than the Interest Rate offered

  2. Ed Arakelian on August 17, 2013 at 7:23 am

    I own some TD Real Return Bond funds which in the last 3 months have been battered. What is the reason for this? Should I stay the course and hold on to them?


    • Boomer on August 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      @Ed Arakelian: RRBs focus on protecting you from inflation which has remained low of late.

      Usually you would expect interest rates and inflation to correlate but in the past few months that wasn’t the case.

      RRBs will perform poorly if inflation turns out to be lower than expected.
      Inflation actually decreased a bit – 0.2%
      They are also vulnerable to rising interest rates. GofC long term bonds yields rose from 2.37% on April 30 to 2.63% on May 31.

      If you sell now you may possibly realize a capital loss. Also, you would need an alternate investment for your money.

      The portfolio advisor of TD Real Return Bond fund believes yields will rise in the future. Do you expect interest rates to rise? Then hold on.

      RRB’s make a good addition to a diversified fixed income portfolio.

  3. Ian Forsyth on November 26, 2014 at 1:15 am

    I have td real return bonds since 2011 and have taken a huge hit .They have only gone down .Back then I paid almost $19 per share now it’s only $16 per share.
    Can anyone tell me if it’s going to improve.
    I feel completely ripped off by my Credential fund manager for recommending it to me.
    Just wish now I would have spent the time to research them a little more.
    What a ripoff

    • Boomer on November 26, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      @Ian Forsyth: I took a look at the TD Real Return Bond Fund and found that the years 2009-2011 had pretty decent returns – 8.59%-15.3%. Unfortunately it looks like you bought close to the top price (it peaked in 2012) because it then had a drop of over 13% in 2013. For this year it seems to be edging back up.

      The stated distribution of interest is 3.25% which is added to your fund.

      So, that said, instead of looking at the price per unit, look at how much you initially invested. Has that amount increased?

      Keep in mind that these funds hold long term bonds (up to 30 years) which tend to be more volatile. I would say hang in there.

  4. Craig Virkus on November 26, 2014 at 7:14 am

    Question: Given a 5 year period in which the 3 middle years there was no income tax filed, can you carry over from years 1 and 5 in which an income tax return was filed?

    • Boomer on November 26, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      @Craig Virkus: First I would like to warn that I am not a tax expert and also I’m not sure what you mean to “carry over”. I also think you should file your previous tax returns. You may be allowed certain tax benefits.

      If you’re asking about capital losses, they can be carried forward indefinitely.

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