Investing can sometimes seem like either like a gamble or very dull.
At the "gambling" end of the spectrum are shares, with the possibility of swift ups in price and swift drops in price.
At the other end is cash in the bank -- a predictable investment with few changes day-to-day or month-on-month.
Investors looking for a middle ground and looking to diversify do have other options. They can consider bonds.
Bonds are something of a mystery to many people -- perhaps because they are not often talked about.
But bonds can play an important role in managing investments.
They can be a half way house between the risk of shares and property and the safety of cash.
How do bonds work?
At the most basic level, a bond is a loan.
Or, more technically, it is a large loan that has been split into packages and sold to investors.
Bond holders typically make money by receiving regular payments of interest (known as coupons) during the life of the loan. When the loan ends, their original investment is returned.
Bonds may have lives of just a year or two or for 10, 20 or even 30 years.
You can buy individual bonds or opt for units in a bond fund run by an asset manager.
Like shares, bonds or bond funds can usually be sold at any time and the value of your investment may rise or fall.
But bond prices usually move less than shares. That is why they are considered safer than shares but they are more risky than a bank deposit.
The original investment and the coupon payments are secure for bonds, while with shares, there is no guarantee of receiving dividend payments -- or your original investment.
Looking a bit more closely, there are two main types of bonds -- corporate bonds and government bonds.
Corporate bonds are loans made by companies. Government bonds are loans made by governments.
Corporate bonds are more risky because the company issuing the bond may go bankrupt. In bankruptcy, though, bond holders are paid before shareholders.
Governments rarely go bankrupt so government bonds are safer than corporate bonds. And the lower interest rate on government bonds reflects this.
Getting more technical, different types of bonds are designed to work in different financial conditions. In particular, index-linked bonds pay coupons and the original investment in a way that compensates for inflation. The can be attractive to investors who want to ensure the value of their investment does not fall if prices rise.
Bonds don't have to be part of your investment portfolio.
Some people are happy to invest exclusively in shares and property but if you want to spread your investment risk, if you want to diversify, remember that there is always a half way house in bonds.