Having been asked several times to give my thoughts on the Cbonds platform, I decided to pull everything together into one article. This Cbonds review is based on my own opinions using it.
Cbonds is essentially a financial data aggregator website. It claims to work with 300 pricing sources from around the world (mainly stock exchanges and brokers) to collate bond data and present it in a user-friendly way.
If you’ve worked in fixed income, you’ll know that it can be hard to find accurate pricing data for bonds – and especially less liquid ones. This has traditionally caused an imbalanced relationship in terms of information – between brokers and smaller investors, with brokers in a position of power and able to charge what they like. The cost of tools such as Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters are quite simply out of reach of smaller investors and that’s where Cbonds fills the void.
Bond Market Transparency
Cbonds is essentially an IT company that has developed software to track and analyse investments. They are not active in the financial markets themselves.
Through publishing the prices being offered by hundreds of different brokers, investors are able to gain a much clearer picture of the bond market, the performance of bonds and the price they should realistically pay for a given bond. It’s worth noting that many of the market participants on the Cbonds platform choose to remain anonymous so don’t expect to use Cbonds as you would Skyscanner or ‘Comparethemarket.com’.
How Cbonds Came About
The company started in 2000, organising conferences around the world to bring together participants from the fixed income markets. It started out in the CIS markets, but quickly became international, holding annual conferences in hub cities such as London, Hong Kong and Istanbul.
The financial data side of the business took on a similar progression. Cbonds has long been the number one financial data provider on the CIS markets- but over the course of the last ten years the business has grown substantially in continental Europe and the UAE, and of late interest is growing rapidly in the Anglosphere; with big names such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, the big 4 accounting firms, PGIM Prudential and Rolls Royce Finance relying on the Cbonds data.
Who Uses Cbonds & Who is it designed for?
In principle, the Cbonds data platform can be used by anyone who is involved in the fixed income markets. In Europe, in numerical terms at least, the bulk of users are private investors, however as mentioned above, a number of large organisations rely on Cbonds data, and have varying uses for it.
I know of some real estate companies, law firms and even financial journalists that use it, too.
The user-friendly interface means that no background knowledge in the field of finance is required- and every new subscriber to Cbonds is encouraged to take an individual training session with a member of the Cbonds team. These sessions are available in several languages including English, Spanish, Italian and Russian- and included as part of the subscription cost.
Institutional investment companies often opt for an API solution – a bespoke service put together dependent on the needs of the individual client. As far as I understand, this is something that is only available to corporates.
Types of Data Available on Cbonds
Here’s an overview of things that you can expect to see on the platform:
Bond Pricing and Yield Data
Bond prices are sourced from over 300 providers, and yields and performance are tracked over time for each bond. Data can be presented graphically, and users have the option of creating graphs based on pricing from an individual provider or using the ‘Cbonds estimation’ – a weighted average of all of the pricing data available for an instrument. Daily pricing data can also be downloaded into Microsoft Excel format (except for users on the premium personal light tariff).
Descriptive Data + Credit Ratings
Quite self-explanatory, this one. All of the bond pages display the key facts about each bond, as well as its ratings data from the main agencies, and from local agencies where applicable.
Cbonds has the largest selection of bond prospectus documents that I’ve ever seen. They’re generally very responsive when it comes to special requests – doing their best to track down hard to get prospectuses for clients and uploading them to the platform.
If you have a Cbonds subscription, you can contact staff by email or WhatsApp with such requests (day or night).
Current and historical IFRS/GAAP documents can be downloaded for each issuer via the bond page.
Extensive indices, especially on Eastern European and CIS markets – CDS data etc, useful for keeping an eye on how markets are performing and comparing their performance with other markets.
This one’s a relatively new feature that I’ve seen appear on Cbonds. While stock data is easy to come by online, it’s useful to be able to monitor everything in one place.
Which platforms are the data available on?
Cbonds is web-based, so data can be accessed through any web browser. We tested it on Firefox and Chrome, and even Safari on the Mac and it’s always the same. In addition to the web platform, Cbonds has a mobile app for Android and IOS. It’s quite convenient to use when you’re out and about, but is more limited in terms of functionality when compared to the web platform.
Most Cbonds subscriptions include access to an Excel add-in. This allows for the management of Cbonds data directly within the Excel platform- even on the Excel 360 web-based platform. This may be more suited to those performing analytics on the bond market. I find that the most convenient method of viewing data is the web-based platform.
For institutional clients, there is also the API option. It’s a bespoke service that has to be discussed on a case-by-case basis with Cbonds.
It may come as a surprise, but Cbonds boasts an even better coverage of prospectuses than Bloomberg. They are also quite responsive to requests – so when there are data missing they’re usually pretty good at tracking it down and adding it.
At the time of writing, they currently cover over 400,000 outstanding bonds- and 100% of Eurobonds. This number is growing all the time as new bonds are issued.
Cbonds has individual contracts with pricing data suppliers – made up of stock exchanges and market participants. It appears that the most current data is supplied by the German stock exchanges- which update every half an hour. Data from market makers looks like it’s being updated once daily, however, for a few of the bonds I’ve looked at (the less liquid ones) data were older. Clearly, the more liquid a bond, the more prices will be supplied for it, and therefore, the more data there will be within the platform for it.
I also mentioned earlier that they also cover stocks which is a ‘nice to have’.
The bond search is essentially the ‘heart’ of the platform- making sense of the 400,000+ bond entries in the platform- allowing users to filter for bonds based on any number of criteria (from yield and duration, industry, issuer to ratings, coupon etc)
The data can be exported directly into Excel, displayed in a graph, or organised directly within the browser. Up to 2,500 bonds can be displayed or exported in one search.
Watch List and Portfolio
The watch list tool allows users to track and monitor up to 250 bonds, and view an estimate of their current net worth based on the number of bonds held. Email/Viber/Telegram notifications can be set up for when bonds hit a certain criteria (price/yield), or a certain event occurs (e.g. coupon payment, change in credit rating etc).
Allows for the calculation of many different pricing estimations based on the prices on a given date.
Quite an extensive offering of indices – most of them created by Cbonds themselves. CDS data is available for countries, however corporate CDS aren’t currently available.
This is essentially a bond calendar, with key bond events such as coupon payment and ratings changes mapped out.
Definitely lacking when compared to Bloomberg, the news section lists new bond issues, changes in ratings and similar events. There is very little commentary, although this is an area that has improved recently. Cbonds also has Telegram and Viber channels that serve updates on the bond market.
Cbonds vs the competition (Bloomberg)
First and foremost- Cbonds is not a trading platform. Nor does it provide anything near the in-depth opinion and analysis that Bloomberg offers. Coverage on US municipal bonds is all but missing within Cbonds, and coverage of structured products is far more limited.
However, Cbonds wins out with EM coverage, and as it’s based outside of the US it can even cover sanctioned markets. Coverage of corporate bonds is more or less comparable, 100% of Eurobonds are covered.
Larger investment houses probably shouldn’t cancel their Bloomberg subscriptions just yet, however. Due to the cost and the convenience of a web-based service, many opt to subscribe to both services- especially if there are colleagues who are tired of waiting for their turn on the terminal, or, especially relevant these days- those that work from home.
The company’s offices are spread across Dubai, Latvia, and St Petersburg (the company has Russian roots). I can only hypothesise that these jurisdictions allow for cost savings which allow Cbonds to undercut the competition on price.
For private investors the choice is clear: Cbonds costs about 20 times less than Bloomberg and provides all the functionality they’d need, and then some. The user interface is also a lot simpler, so while for institutional investors this may be restrictive, the learning curve is almost non-existent.
The Bottom Line: Is Cbonds Any Good?
Cbonds has quite a few pricing plans available. While I don’t know the details of them all, it is safe to say that Cbonds is very affordable, especially given the amount and quantity of data available. Having access to up to date pricing information is clearly an advantage when dealing with brokers who can often mark up on the spread- and the Cbonds subscription fee could likely be saved on just a single trade.
From my dealings with them, the Cbonds staff have been very responsive. There are many channels for getting in touch with them. Some will find their multi-lingual support a plus.
As with anything, there are some drawbacks too. For our American readers, the lack of US municipal bonds might be frustrating, and some of the advanced tools available on Bloomberg are missing.
On the other hand, there is no learning curve, the design is very user-friendly and for the average investor, there is more than enough data. The bond search a powerful tool for quickly discovering interesting investments.
In summary, I’d say that Cbonds can really pay off for any investor with a portfolio of over 1 million USD. For one-off bond investors, there probably won’t be a return on investment, and for very large institutional investors Cbonds would probably be used in addition to a Bloomberg terminal.
That’s about all I can think to put into this Cbonds review. I give it 4.5 out of 5 overall.