The duration measure indicates that regardless of whether interest rates increase or decrease, the approximate percentage price change is the same. However, while for small changes in yield the percentage price change will be the same for an increase or decrease in yield, for large changes in yield this is not true. This suggests that duration is only a good approximation of the percentage price change for small changes in yield.

For example, using a 5% 20-year bond selling to yield 4% with a duration of 13.09. For a 10 basis point change in yield, the estimate was accurate for both an increase or a decrease in yield. However, for a 200 basis point change in yield, the approximate percentage price change was off considerably.

The reason for this result is that duration is in fact a first (linear) approximation for a small change in yield. The approximation can be improved by using a second approximation. This approximation is referred to as “convexity.” The use of this term in the industry is unfortunate because the term convexity is also used to describe the shape or curvature of the price/yield relationship. The convexity measure of a security can be used to approximate the change in price that is not explained by duration.

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