Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Zero-coupon bonds are bonds which do not pay interest payments (also known as coupon payments). The bonds are purchased at a discount from what they will be worth when they mature. The holder of a zero coupon bond is entitled to receive a single payment, usually of a specified sum of money at a specified time in the future. Some zero coupon bonds are inflation indexed, and so the amount of money that will be paid to the bond holder is calculated to have a set amount of purchasing power rather than a set amount of money, but the majority of zero coupon bonds pay a set amount of money known as the face value of the bond.
In contrast, an investor who has a regular bond receives income from coupon payments, which are usually made semi-annually. The investor also receives the principal or face value of the investment when the bond matures.
Zero-coupon bonds are considered long-term investments with maturity dates typically starting at ten to fifteen years. The bonds can be held until maturity or sold on secondary bond markets.
Dealers may separate the coupons from the bond principal, which is also known as the residue, so that different investors are entitled to the principal and each of the coupon payments. Both the coupons and residue may be sold to investors. Each of these investments then pays a single lump sum, so it is effectively a zero coupon bond. This method of creating zero coupon bonds is known as stripping and the contracts are known as strip bonds.
Dealers normally purchase a block of high-quality and non-callable bonds - often government issues - to create strip bonds. A strip bond has no reinvestment risk because the payment to the investor only occurs at maturity. There is no guarantee the coupon payments on a regular bond can be reinvested at the same or better yield.
The impact of interest-rate fluctuations on strip bonds is more pronounced than a bond that has both coupons and residue - particularly when the term to maturity is long. Strip bonds are available from investment dealers maturing at terms even up to 30 years.
Zero coupon bonds were introduced in 1982.
Even though zero's don't pay periodic interest, the holder may be liable for imputed income. 
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