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If you're looking for steady investment income and a relatively safe investment, take a glance at the corporate or government bond market. A bond's rating gives you the risk of default, while the "yield" gives you the expected annual return until the bond matures. Researching bond prices, however, does not mean simply entering a ticker symbol and calling up a quote. You have to dig a little and be selective about your source of information.
To find current market prices of bonds, you can go to a financial website such as CNBC or Yahoo, or to an online brokerage website such as Ameritrade or E*Trade. These sites offer bond screeners, which allow you to search bonds meeting your personal criteria, including the type of bond, the length of time until maturity, the yield, the rating and the coupon rate -- the interest paid on the bond's face amount. The result will be a list of bonds; most sites will give the quantity available in the open market, yield to maturity, coupon rate and the last closing price.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Agency is a public agency that publishes current information on bonds in its Market Data Center. The site offers real-time bond transaction prices -- not delayed quotes, as in most commercial outlets. In addition, you can access end-of-day prices for U.S. Treasury bonds, as well as credit rating information on government and corporate bonds from the three major ratings agencies -- Standard & Poor's, Moody's Investor Services and Fitch.
A useful site for municipal bond investors is the Electronic Municipal Market Access, a site maintained by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board. EMMA has a search page for individual bonds as well as a Market Activity section, which gives recent trades, summaries of transactions, market news and data, and statements and disclosure documents from issuing agencies. The trade details include the transaction amount, price, trade type and settlement date, in addition to general information about the bond.
For U.S. Treasuries, investors can access recent market prices for bonds, bills and notes in traditional financial media, such as "The Wall Street Journal," the "Financial Times," "Barron's" or "Investor's Business Daily." In addition, information on interest rates is available at the federal government's TreasuryDirect site, where you can purchase bonds free of broker commissions and fees. This site also gives upcoming dates of Treasury auctions, with which the government issues new debt securities to brokers and the public.
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