Stocks vs Bonds – What’s the Difference?

Let's face it, bonds don't get the same air time as stocks and other investments. But that doesn't mean they don't have their place in a diversified portfolio

Maria Collinge
January 24, 2023
Stocks and bonds have their own characteristics, which is why having a combination of the two can help diversify your portfolio (Image: Female Invest)
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When it comes to investing, there are a lot of different options to choose from. Two of the most common are stocks and bonds. But what's the difference between them? And which one is right for you? Here we’ll break down the differences between stocks and bonds, as well as their pros and cons. So whether you're just starting out in the world of investing or you're looking to spice up your portfolio – it's all part of becoming a savvy investor!

Stocks vs Bonds: An Overview

Stocks and bonds are two of the most traded types of assets and can be traded through multiple channels, including trading platforms and brokers. No matter what type of investor you are, it's important to diversify your portfolio by investing in both stocks and bonds. This way, if one type of investment isn't performing well, then the other should provide some security and help protect against losses. 

The bond market

Bonds are a type of investment that not many people talk about, but they’re actually pretty interesting! For starters, the bond market (also known as the fixed-income market) is the place where investors can buy and sell bonds. These bonds are essentially loan agreements between investors and issuers (like companies or governments).

When you purchase a bond, you're lending money to an issuer with a promise to repay it, plus interest, over a specified period of time. Individual investors invest in bonds with the view of earning additional income from interest. 

Bonds are loan agreements between investors and issuers (Photo: Jason Leung/Unsplash)

The company or government will therefore give back (for example) 5% of the $1,000 dollar loaned to them every year. That means the investor will get $50 straight into their account every year as an incentive. The investor will then redeem their bond at the end of the 10 year period, having received regular interest payments each year. They will eventually redeem the $1,000 principal investment, but over the 10 year period would have earned $500 in bonds.

That's why these investments tend to be more conservative than other asset classes like stocks and aren't suitable for everyone. 

Different types of bonds

If you’re looking to trade bonds, two of the most common types are corporate and municipal bonds. Corporate bonds are debt securities issued by public or private companies, while munis are issued by state or local governments. 

Corporate bonds

Corporate bonds are debt instruments issued by companies when they need to raise capital for various projects or expansions.  As an investor, buying corporate bonds is like lending a company money at an agreed-upon interest rate over a set period of time.  The higher the risk associated with the company, the higher return you may expect from investing in its corporate bonds. 

Municipal bonds

Municipal bonds are debt securities issued by states, cities and local governments.  They can be used to finance a variety of projects such as schools, roads and bridges. They offer investors the safety of a fixed-income security with tax advantages that make them attractive for many people.  

Bonds will always be needed as an asset class. Consider investing in them.

Where are bonds traded?

The bond market does not have a centralized location to trade. Bonds are traded on multiple types of markets, such as the primary market (where new bonds are issued) and the secondary market (where existing bonds are bought and sold by investors). Depending on the type of bond being traded, they may be bought and sold in an over-the-counter or online marketplace, or through a broker. In the UK, for example, you can also purchase them through fund supermarkets or by going directly to the government's Debt Management Office.

Pros of bonds

Bonds are a stock exchange investment that can give you many advantages, such as:

  • Regular income: With bond investments, you will receive regular payments that automatically increase your bank balance.
  • Safety: Bonds are generally considered one of the safest stock exchange investments around as they tend to be low-risk and predictable.
  • Diversification: By investing in bonds, you can help diversify your stock exchange portfolio and spread risk across different markets, products or companies.
  • Growth opportunities: Although bond investments may not provide explosive growth like stocks, they do offer steady returns and potential for capital appreciation over time.

Cons of bonds

  • Lower returns: Bonds do not provide as high of a return as stocks do in good times, so investors should consider how much return they are expecting from bonds.
  • Price fluctuations: Bond prices fall when interest rates go up. Long-term bonds, especially, suffer from price fluctuations as interest rates rise and fall.

The stock market

The stock market is a fascinating and complex place. As an investor, it can be thrilling to watch the stock market, but it's also important to remember all the risks that come with investing in stocks. If you're willing to take calculated risks, stock investing can offer great rewards - including financial freedom! And if you have a bit of knowledge about stock prices, stock markets and trading strategies, you can learn to make informed decisions that will benefit your portfolio in the long run. Having fun while learning about stock investments is entirely possible; just keep your eye on the prize – growing your wealth! 

Want to grow your money? Consider investing in stocks (Photo: Ben Breitenstein/Unsplash)

Where are stocks traded?

Stocks are traded on stock markets all over the world, such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) in Japan. The stock market is where investors buy and sell stocks to make money in a liquid environment. It’s a great way to get involved in investing, whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned stock trader!

It’s important to note that not all companies issue stocks on the stock exchange. In fact, only companies with a high valuation and who have issued an IPO are able to issue an initial public offering (IPO). It’s only once the shares have been issued on the primary market to public shareholders, that these shares can be sold and purchased on an exchange or the secondary market (the stock exchange).

Pros of stocks

  • High growth potential: For starters, stocks offer the potential for higher returns than other investments like bonds or cash.
  • Ownership: Owning stocks makes you part-owner of a company and helps you share in its growth. 
  • Liquidity: Stocks also provide liquidity since they can be easily bought and sold on an exchange. 
  • Diversification: And with so many options available across different sectors and industries, you have plenty of chances to diversify your portfolio. 

Cons of stocks

  • Risk: One of the biggest disadvantages of stocks is that you face the risk of losing your initial investment. Prices can go up and down quickly, so there’s no guarantee you’ll make a profit! 
  • Fees: Stocks also come with fees such as trading commissions and dividend taxes that can eat into your returns over time. 
  • Require homework: Stocks are often risky because they involve companies or industries you may not understand. If you don’t do your research about a company before investing in it, then you could end up losing money. 

Should I invest in stocks or bonds?

If you're wondering whether stocks or bonds are the better investment, it really depends on your goals. Stocks can be more volatile in the short-term and require a higher risk tolerance, but they also have the potential for greater returns over time. On the other hand, bonds are generally less volatile and may provide steady income through coupon payments – but their returns tend to be lower than stocks.

Like anything investment-related, there's no one-size-fits-all answer when deciding between stocks and bonds. It all comes down to evaluating your own financial situation and finding an approach that meets your needs. Do some research into both stocks and bonds, assess how much money you want to invest, and decide which option is right for you. After all, investing is all about taking the time to make informed decisions – so why not make stocks and bonds part of that equation?