What is the illiquidity premium?

IMAGINE TWO bonds listed on different exchanges that are otherwise identical. The risk-free rate of return is 2%. Investors hold bonds for an average of one year. A central bank acts as market-maker, supplying cash on demand for bonds. To cover its costs, the price the central bank pays (the bid) is a bit below the fair value of a bond, which is the price it requires buyers to pay for it (the ask). The bid-ask spread is the cost of trading. For A-bonds it is 1%. For B-bonds, which are listed on an inefficient exchange that charges higher fees, it is 4%.

What is the yield on each bond? It varies with trading costs. Investors on average make one round-trip sale-and-purchase a year. So the yield they demand on A-bonds is 3%. That includes the risk-free rate of 2% plus 1% compensation for trading costs. By the same logic, the yield on B-bonds is 6%. The extra 3% return required on the harder-to-trade security is known as the illiquidity premium.

Illiquidity matters less if investors have longer horizons. A pioneering paper by Yakov Amihud and Haim Mendelson, published in 1986, posits that investors with the shortest horizons hold securities with the lowest trading costs; and bonds that are relatively illiquid are held by long-term investors, who can spread the higher trading costs over a longer holding period. In principle...

via The Economist: Finance and economics Business Feeds

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