As a long-term investment, a 0.3% real yield makes I-Bonds a slightly worse choice than Inflation-Protected Treasury Bonds (TIPS). As of yesterday, a 5-year TIPS had a 0.73% real yield.
As a short-term investment, it depends on how you think inflation will turn out in the near future. If you buy a new I-Bond in November, you will earn 0.3% fixed + 3.06% based on inflation = 3.36% for the first 6 months. The second 6-month rate will be 0.3% + a variable rate based on inflation from September 2009 to March 2010.
(Savings Bond Reminders: You must hold for at least a year (or 11 months and a day if you buy on the last day of the month). If you hold for less than 5 years, there is a penalty of the last 3-months interest. Savings bond interest is exempt from state income taxes, and all taxes can be deferred until the time of bond redemption.)
Worst case scenario, there is deflation of worse than 0.3% which makes the total rate zero for the 2nd six months. Earning 3.36% for 6 months with an 11-month holding period gives you an effective rate of approximately 1.83% APY. This is only slightly lower than the top yields for a 12-month CD. If the annualized inflation rate over the 2nd 6 months is just 1%, your effective rate after the 3-month interest penalty rises to 2.00%. It’s not a screaming buy, but if you are looking for 1+ year safe investment and haven’t exceed your annual purchase limits, I would personally buy them over a bank CD since you do well in cases of rising inflation and okay otherwise.
For more background, see the rest of my posts on savings bonds.
By Jonathan Ping | Savings Bonds | 11/4/09, 5:47am