Real Return Bonds–Not a Loony Idea

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The Canadian government has said it will stop issuing real return bonds, i.e. inflation indexed bonds. Real return bonds are extremely useful to anyone who wants a steady stream of income that keeps up with inflation—retirees, for example. A real return bond would also be ideal for funding an endowment such as a university chair or scholarship program. I agree with John Cochrane and Jon Hartley writing in the G&M that ending sales of these bonds is a bad signal.

So why stop issuing real return bonds? The government may suspect that inflation will go up a lot more, and it will then have to pay more to bondholders. Non-indexed debt can be inflated away if the fiscal situation worsens. The cumulative 11-per-cent inflation since January, 2021, has inflated away 11 per cent of the debt already. Argentines have seen a lot more.

But issuing indexed debt makes sense if the government plans to be responsible. Tax payments and budget costs rise with inflation, and fall with disinflation, so the budget is stabilized if inflation-indexed bond payments do the same. And issuing indexed debt that can’t be inflated away is a good incentive not to turn around and inflate debt away.

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