Sept 4, 2014 – I am a choosy buyer of Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, so choosy in fact that I’ve only pulled the trigger three times since July 2011. In that time, yields on TIPS have plummeted, while at the same time inflation has been very mild. TIPS haven’t been that attractive. These were my purchases:

  • May 2013: Bought a 9-year, 8-month TIPS with a yield of -0.225%. The current yield on that TIPS is 0.223%.
  • July 2013: Bought a 10-year TIPS with a yield of 0.384%. The current yield on that TIPS is 0.192%.
  • August 2013: Bought a 4-year, 8-month TIPS with a yield of -0.127%. The current yield on that TIPS is -0.417%.

At the time, I thought these were attractive yields that fit my TIPS ladder and investing needs. For the 37 other TIPS auctions since July 2011, I haven’t found an attractive combination. So I have been sitting on the sidelines.

Am I a market timer? No. I buy-and-hold TIPS to maturity, so I am not a trader. I am just looking for the best opportunities for my limited investment cash.

And right now – in September 2014 – I am not finding attractive opportunities in TIPS. Yields have dropped sharply this year, meaning TIPS are much more expensive than they were in 2013. And they are more expensive against other bond investments, as this chart shows:

year to date

The TIP ETF has greatly outperformed Vanguard’s Total Bond Market ETF (BND) and the Intermediate Treasury ETF (IEI) in 2014. That indicates TIPS are getting more expensive versus the overall bond market. NOTE: The TIP ETF is more volatile because it has a duration of 7.78, versus 4.59 for IEI and 5.60 for BND.

This out-performance looks very much like the pattern in 2012, when TIPS yields were plummeting:

2012 TIPS
And this out-performance led to a crushing fall in 2013, when yields in the TIPS market rose by more than 100 basis points, sending the TIP ETF plummeting, even against other bond investments:

2013 TIPS
A lot of new TIPS investors who poured money into mutual funds and ETFs after July 2011 didn’t realize they were getting a possibly volatile investment. TIPS seem so conservative. After May 2013, they got the message loud and clear. And when the fall came, I was buying.

Just to drive this point home, here is a chart showing 2104 year-to-date yields for the 10-year TIPS, which I consider the benchmark. It has been a steady decline:

10-year yield
On the other hand, it’s a positive for TIPS that the 10-year inflation breakeven point has been behaving very nicely, staying in a lowish pattern against the traditional 10-year Treasury. This chart would indicate that TIPS aren’t a bad investment right now, at least versus traditional Treasurys, and also that TIPS were oversold in 2013:

Inflation breakeven
A lower number is a good thing, indicating TIPS are less expensive versus traditional Treasurys. In general, a number above 2.5% means TIPS are very expensive, and a number below 2.0% means they are very cheap. This chart shows a good trend for TIPS buyers.

Conclusion. I have a very rough guide: If the yield on a 10-year TIPS begins approaching 1%, I will be likely to buy. When it stays below 0.5%, I am very unlikely to buy, unless a certain investment meets my needs, such as filling a hole in my investment ladder.

Also, keep an eye on the price of the TIP ETF, which is currently $114.54. When it begins to approach $110, sellers will be panicking and buyers will need to be ready.

Market timing? No. Just a common sense approach to buy-and-hold investing.