Fixed income (FI) securities, such as government bonds or notes, pay investors a set amount of interest at a specified time. Unlike variable-income securities, where payments change based on an underlying measure such as short-term interest rates, the payments of a fixed-income security are known in advance.
In addition to government-issued and corporate bonds, fixed income securities can also be bond funds or even bank certificates of deposit (CDs).
Fixed-income investments are typically viewed as less risky than stocks but offering higher returns than cash. Most also offer a predictable income stream as well as appreciated value over the life of the security, while many others offer tax advantages.
Most investors hold some of their portfolio in fixed-income securities, and the more conservative the investor the more they tend to hold. That's because FI investments act as a hedge against exposure to equities and other higher growth securities.
Consequently, investors tend to rebalance their portfolios towards FI as they grow older, both to protect value and to generate a stable income . Other investors looking to reduce their tax burden often add tax-favored FI securities like munis and treasuries to their portfolios.
Fixed-income securities are considered a safe and conservative investment but generally offer much less growth potential than stocks. And although less volatile than equities, the bond market is at the mercy of interest rates and can be unpredictable.
Plus some apparently secure fixed-income securities can still be hammered by a falling market. The market for mortgage-backed fixed-income securities like CDOs, for example, has recently all but disappeared as liquidity dried up following the subprime mortgage meltdown.