The First Eighty Years of the US Bond Market: Investor Total Return from 1793, Combining Federal, Municipal, and Corporate Bonds
66 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2018
Date Written: October 4, 2018
US securities markets took root after Alexander Hamilton’s refunding of the Federal debt in the early 1790s. Accordingly, a market in bonds has been in operation in the US for over two centuries. Until recently, however, little was known about the bond market prior to 1857. This paper focuses on investor holding period returns, using newly compiled data on bond prices, rather than focusing on the movement of yields, as in Homer (1963). It incorporates the relatively familiar Treasury securities from before President Andrew Jackson paid off the debt in 1835, but also includes state and city debt, which ballooned beginning in the 1820s, as well as corporate debt, from its beginnings about 1830 to its explosion after 1850. I find that all three classes of bonds provided investors with similar total returns, excepting a brief period in the 1840s when state securities plunged before recovering. I also find that real returns in the eight decades following 1793 were generally higher than the long-term average return of 3.6% proposed for bonds in Siegel (2014). I further find that in these early years, bonds sometimes out-performed stocks over periods of several decades, again contrary to Siegel’s thesis. The paper considers the implications of a demonstration that stocks and bonds performed differently in the nineteenth century as compared to the twentieth century.
Keywords: bond market, 19th century US securities markets, Hamilton refunding, history of interest rates, long-term return on bonds, long-term return on stocks
JEL Classification: E22, E32, R43, G01, G12, N11, N21
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