5 Bond ETFs For The Masses

By Investopedia Staff | April 29, 2012 AAA

Bonds are gaining in popularity due to their placement in bankruptcy proceedings. As investors are toning down their risk, being higher on the food chain, so to speak, fixed income investing is one way to do this. In a worst-case scenario such as bankruptcy, the creditors and bondholders usually get at least some of their money back, while shareholders often lose their entire investment. Bonds can also be very efficient at smoothing out volatility and preserving capital. The regular income distributions bonds generate help cushion downside while still providing upside. Investors are flocking to bond ETF for their tax efficiency, low operating costs and transparency of ownership. These ETFs often make quarterly distributions, rather than semi or annual payments, unlike individual debt offers. The diversification benefits alone make ETFs one of the best investment vehicles out there for both institutional and retail investors.

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A Simple Fixed-Income Portfolio
While a broad based "catch all" bond ETF such as the iShares Barclays Aggregate Bond (ARCA:AGG), which owns 1451 various bonds is a good low-cost choice for many portfolios (expense ratio of 0.22%), investors wanting to take a more hands-on approach to their fixed-income assets have several choices. Investors wanting to take full advantage of the various credit types and maturity timelines can build a quality portfolio that will keep up with rising interest rates and throw off enough income. Here is a simple fixed-income approach using some of the more popular and cheaper funds.

Bond ETF Choices
It's almost a guarantee that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates sometime in the near future, although the next date is uncertain. In order to take advantage of this fact, investors should keep their maturities short. These short term bonds tend to lose less than bonds of longer timelines. Corporate bonds traditionally pay larger coupons due to their "riskier' nature. The iShares Barclays 1-3 Year Credit Bond (ARCA:CSJ) follows 670 different short term investment grade corporate, and non-U.S. Agency bonds. The funds 30-day SEC yield is 1.11%, but as rates rise, so will the ETF's yield. A dose of short term United States Treasury bonds from the iShares Barclays 1-3 Year Treasury (ARCA:SHY) will help increase the safety level.

SEE: Bonds: They're Not Just For Seniors


Just as the U.S government issues treasury bonds, so do other nations around the world. Adding a weighting of these international bonds will help protect the portfolio against a potentially falling dollar. The SPDR Barclays Capital International Treasury (ARCA:BWX) holds 329 bonds from various places around the globe including Canada, Germany and Japan. The fund currently yields 3.75%.

With the worst of the recession behind us, adding a weighting of high-yielding junk bonds makes sense as a growing economy should help keep defaults at a minimum. This fund will also bring up the overall income yield of the portfolio. The SPDR Barclays Capital High Yield Bond (ARCA:JNK) fits the bill.

Bottom Line
It seems these days that everyone is adding a bigger percentage of bonds to their portfolio. ETFs make it easy to add diverse fixed-income assets to a portfolio. The preceding bond ETFs are a good example of a starter bond allocation.

SEE: An Introduction To Corporate Bond ETFs

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