The UK’s greatest bond market crash

Tright here’s a skeleton lurking within the UK’s monetary closet. It’s the ghostly stays of a horrible bear market – one which makes Japan’s 31-year inventory stagnation seem like a brief blip. This multi-decade decline was the UK’s ugliest bond market crash (and we’ve had a couple of).

It took 40 years to achieve all-time low. Losses peaked at -79% in 1974. Full restoration took till 1997 – over 20 years later.

The entire horror present lasted greater than 62 years and unfolded like this:

A chart showing how the worst bond market crash in UK history unfolded.

Information from JST Macrohistory. February 2023.

Be aware: This chart – and this complete article – makes use of actual returns that incorporate reinvested earnings.

The 2 sides of the graph type a jagged hell mouth that swallowed bond buyers within the Thirties.

The magnitude and period of the drop ought to dispel ceaselessly any notion that bonds are inherently ‘protected’.

Bonds are threat property. It’s the often-divergent nature of their threat – versus any supposedly invincibility – that may make them a helpful complement to equities.

Properly… typically.

The good bond market crash of 1935-97

A log view of the identical chart reveals how every downward leg of the bond market crash compares:

This chart shows the severity of losses at several stages in the UK's worst bond market crash.

The -46% ledge-drop of 1972-74 alone was deeper than many inventory market implosions.

However we should go additional again – to the aftermath of World Conflict One – to seek out the darkish roots of this nightmare.

The trauma of that warfare gave solution to mass unemployment because the Authorities lower spending and raised rates of interest. Its precedence was to get well Britain’s preeminence in worldwide commerce, and it was ready to sacrifice the residing requirements of the final inhabitants to realize that objective.

As wages and demand fell, Britain was wracked by deflation through the Nineteen Twenties and early Thirties.

Deflation is like steroids for bonds – actual yields rose, propelling gilts to a 480% return from 1921 to 1934.

However the Nice Melancholy and unemployment as excessive as 22% put paid to the Treasury’s powerful medication – the market pushed Britain off the Gold Customary because the Financial institution of England’s reserves drained.

But sarcastically, the compelled policy-reversal proved a blessing (and not for the last time).

The abandonment of the Gold Customary devalued the pound and gifted the Chancellor the liberty to chop rates of interest. The resultant low cost cash stimulated the financial system nevertheless it additionally sparked inflation again to life.

And inflation is the arch-nemesis of bonds.

Inflation nation

Our subsequent graph reveals how surging inflation triggered gilt losses, whereas decelerating inflation ultimately precipitated the bond market’s restoration:

A graph showing how runaway inflation is responsible for the destruction of bond value.

The sharp spikes within the inexperienced annual inflation line correlate with a collapse in bond values. A restoration solely started within the Eighties when the final development pointed down.

If this had been a sport of Cluedo then it’s case closed. It was RPI inflation that did it, clobbering bonds over the pinnacle with the ‘basket of products’ on the buying and selling room flooring.

The 60% loss incurred by 1956 is immediately related to the accelerating inflation that erupts on the chart from the late Nineteen Forties. That inflation reached double digits in 1952.

When Prime Minister Harold Macmillan stated, “You’ve by no means had it so good,” he clearly wasn’t addressing bond buyers.

The Sixties did present some reduction. Each inflation expectations and gilts drifted sideways.

However then inflation exploded. It jumped over 9% in ’73, 16% in ’74, and peaked at greater than 24% in ’75.

1974’s -27% loss inflicted the third largest annual bond defeat of all-time (after 1916 and 2022).

The UK’s worst stock market crash reached its nadir that very same yr – however by New 12 months’s Eve the worst was over, regardless of inflation remaining in double figures for the remainder of the Seventies.

A key takeaway from the chart is that nominal bonds aren’t crushed by excessive inflation per se.

Gilts made an annual acquire of 11% in 1975 though inflation was 24%, as an illustration.

Why? As a result of inflation wasn’t as excessive because the market had feared, and bond yields had already risen to compensate.

Do you yield?

The next long-term yield chart for the bond market crash interval proves that buyers aren’t defenceless within the face of inflation:

This graph shows how UK investor's demanded higher yields to compensate them for the 1935-1997 bond market crash.

The graph tells us three issues:

  • As bond prices fall yields rise. It’s the regulation. (It’s additionally maths).
  • Buyers’ demand increased yields to guard their returns in opposition to galloping inflation.
  • The stage is ready for outsized bond returns if yields outpace future inflationary dangers – and particularly if rates of interest development down after you’ve locked in a superb yield.

Again in 1935 the long-term yield was 2.9%. As yields spiralled they inflicted capital losses that – coupled with hovering inflation – clarify the injury sustained by long-term legacy gilt holders:

12 months Yield Cumulative loss
1951 3.8% 50%
1956 4.7% 60%
1974 15.2% 79%

Quick-rising gilt yields – accompanying inflation breaking unfastened in 2022 – equally administered a -30% bond shock final yr. 

Peak yield

Again in 1975, the yield had already dropped right down to 14.6% as inflation crested. That crumb of consolation meant a small 11% bump in bond costs that yr – nearly seen as the start of the restoration within the gilts vs inflation chart above.

Inflation can stay blisteringly excessive once we consider it as shoppers. However it’s excessive and surprising inflation that pains us as bondholders.

Inflation and yields trended down by way of the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties, and eventually these 1934 bondholders noticed a optimistic return for the primary time. Or maybe their grandkids did.

As unseen Movietone News commentary of the period put it with attribute plumminess:

Sure, it’s 1997! New Labour sweeps to energy ending 18 years of Tory rule, and Aqua’s Barbie Girl is high of the Hit Parade!

In the meantime, the category of ’34 are going bond bonkers! They’ve earned 3.4% in 63 years, or a whopping 0.05% annualised. The fortunate blighters!

Movietone was not identified for the depth of its monetary evaluation.

Survivor’s gilt

As benighted as the trail was for buyers caught within the jaws of that nice bond bear market, anybody courageous sufficient to wager on a comeback within the Seventies was set to earn equity-like returns.

Shopping for into 1975 gilts delivered annualised returns of 5.7% over the ten years, and 6.5% over 20 years.

1982 rolling gilt returns had been 9.3% annualised for the subsequent decade – and eight.5% over 20 years.

Which, by the way, is a clue as to why it’s so tricky to call the bond market now.

If inflation subsides, you might be locking in a superb yield that’ll ship respectable returns sooner or later – together with substantial capital good points if rates of interest fall.

But when inflation continues to go rogue then our nominal bonds might be as helpful as a woolly tub.

What to do? We’ve beforehand defined why each asset class has a spot in a diversified portfolio.

It’s greatest to unfold your bets when reckoning with uncertainty.

Take it regular,

The Accumulator


P.S. It’s value reiterating: this text makes use of inflation-adjusted complete returns to know precisely what buyers’ earned through the bond market crash. Bond articles that don’t deal in actual returns do their readers a disservice. For instance, the 1935 bond bear market lined above is totally recovered by 1941 when judged in nominal phrases.

P.P.S. The second most hideous UK bond market crash started in 1898 and hit -71% in 1920. These investor’s had been made complete by 1932, because of that deflationary bond bull market that adopted World Conflict One.

P.P.P.S. There’s one grim path that sees 1879 bondholders nonetheless underwater 102 years later in 1991. Their returns are completely respectable till World Conflict One ruins them. They claw their means again into the black through the deflationary period, however the 1974 FUBAR leaves them gazing a loss once more. Lastly the 80’s bond increase pushes them again into optimistic territory the place they continue to be immediately.

P.P.P.P.S. For a grounding within the mechanics of bonds, please learn our items on rising bond yields and bond duration. We even have a useful jargon-buster that clarifies some bond terms which might be helpful to know.

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