INVESTOR alarm about the firestorm sweeping global emerging markets has triggered a record-breaking rush to the safety of US Treasury securities. For small investors, becoming a US Treasury bond holder has been made easier following reduction in the minimum investment in all marketable bills, notes and bonds to US$1,000. Former threshold investments were as high as $10,000. The changes, which apply to outstanding bills and notes, also mean they can be sold and transferred in similar minimum increments. 'Marketable bills, notes and bonds are available to everyone, no matter where they live,' a treasury spokesman said. From September 16, the treasury also is introducing an Internet buy-direct service for those with 'Treasury Direct' accounts. The web site address is: www.publicdebt.treas.gov . Investors can call (US) 304 480 7955 to set up an account or make a tender. Payments must be made through a US bank. The service will be extended in October to a buy-direct touch-tone service which will be accessible by foreign investors. Alternatively, Treasuries can be bought or sold through a bank or broker. Investors considering this option should compare fees and commissions and whether they have to maintain an account. Investors worldwide have been seeking shelter in US government bonds, creating a bull market that has generated higher returns than blue-chip equity markets. In the past 12 months, a 30-year Treasury bond has produced a return of 15.4 per cent, which compares with about 10 per cent for Dow Jones' industrials. Treasury bills, notes and bonds are considered the benchmark for safety because they are backed by the 'full faith and credit' of the United States. The differences between the bills, notes and bonds are in their maturities and denominations. T-bills are sold with three-month, six-month and 12-month maturities. Notes are issued with maturities ranging from two years to 10 years. Bonds usually are issued in maturities of 30 years, although technically they could have maturities of 10 years or more. Notes and bonds pay a stated interest rate semi-annually and are redeemed at face value at maturity. Some 30-year and longer bonds may be called - or redeemed - at 25 years. T-bills are sold on a 'discounted basis' which means an investor paying, say $9,700 for a one-year bill, will receive $10,000 at maturity. The $300 discount is the 'interest'. The recent price jumps could pose a question for existing bond owners - whether it is time to sell and lock in their gains. Merrill Lynch's chief fixed-income strategist Thomas Sowanick warned that the outlook remained volatile. Stockmarket plunges worldwide and renewed speculation that the US Federal Reserve may have to ease interest rates last week drove the 30-year benchmark Treasury up 18/32 in price as the yield, which moves in the opposite direction, fell to 5.38 per cent. Intra-day yields on the long bond set a succession of record lows. The yield on the three-year note fell below the 5 per cent barrier, and yields for the two-year and five-year notes dropped to comparable lows. The dilemma confronting investors is whether they can justify paying more for bonds - and pushing yields below 5.5 per cent - without an indication that the Federal Reserve is close to easing short-term interest rates. The prospect of a recession next year - a view gaining support following worldwide troubles - could result in the long-bond yield falling to 4 per cent, bringing returns of nearly 30 per cent to an investor buying bonds at today's prices. Riskier bond markets - smaller markets, credit and emerging market bonds - are expected to suffer as a result of the flight to safety.