In most countries government expenditure exceeds the level of government income received through taxation. This shortfall is made up by government borrowing and bonds are issued to finance the government’s debt. The core of any domestic capital market is usually the government bond market, which also forms the benchmark for all other borrowing. Figure 1.2 illustrates UK gilt price and yield quotes as listed in the Financial Times for 23 July 1999.
Government agencies also issue bonds. Such bonds are virtually as secure as government bonds. In the United States agencies include the Federal National Mortgage Association. Local authorities issue bonds as part of financing for roads, schools, hospitals and other capital projects. Corporate borrowers issue bonds both to raise finance for major projects and also to cover ongoing and operational expenses. Corporate finance is a mixture of debt and equity and a specific capital project will often be financed as a mixture of both.
Capital Market Participants
The debt capital markets exist because of the financing requirements of governments and corporates. The source of capital is varied, but the total supply of funds in a market is made up of personal or household savings, business savings and increases in the overall money supply. Growth in the money supply is a function of the overall state of the economy. Individuals save out of their current income for future consumption, while business savings represent retained earnings. The entire savings stock represents the capital available in a market.
In its simplest form a financial intermediary is a broker or agent. Today we would classify the broker as someone who acts on behalf of the borrower or lender, buying or selling a bond as instructed. However intermediaries originally acted between borrowers and lenders in placing funds as required. A broker would not simply on-lend funds that have been placed with it, but would accept deposits and make loans as required by its customers. This resulted in the first banks. A retail bank deals mainly with the personal financial sector and small businesses, and in addition to loans and deposits also provides cash transmission services. A retail bank is required to maintain a minimum cash reserve, to meet potential withdrawals, but the remainder of its deposit base can be used to make loans. This does not mean that the total size of its loan book is restricted to what it has taken in deposits: loans can also be funded in the wholesale market. An investment bank will deal with governments, corporates and institutional investors. Investment banks perform an agency role for their customers, and are the primary vehicle through which a corporate will borrow funds in the bond markets. This is part of the bank’s corporate finance function; it will also act as wholesaler in the bond markets, a function known as market making. The bond issuing function of an investment bank, by which the bank will issue bonds on behalf of a customer and pass the funds raised to this customer, is known as origination. Investment banks will also carry out a range of other functions for institutional customers, including export finance, corporate advisory and fund management.
Other financial intermediaries will trade not on behalf of clients but for their own book. These include arbitrageurs and speculators. Usually such market participants form part of investment banks.
There is a large variety of players in the bond markets, each trading some or all of the different instruments available to suit their own purposes. We can group the main types of investors according to the time horizon of their investment activity.
- Short-term institutional investors: These include banks and building societies, money market fund managers, central banks and the treasury desks of some types of corporates. Such bodies are driven by short-term investment views, often subject to close guidelines, and will be driven by the total return available on their investments. Banks will have an additional requirement to maintain liquidity, often in fulfilment of regulatory authority rules, by holding a proportion of their assets in the form of easily tradeable short-term instruments.
- Long-term institutional investors: Typically these types of investors include pension funds and life assurance companies. Their investment horizon is long-term, reflecting the nature of their liabilities; often they will seek to match these liabilities by holding long-dated bonds.