International bond exchange-traded funds (ETFs) invest in debt securities issued outside the United States. They offer investors exposure to foreign government and corporate bonds, which provide geographic diversification for a fixed-income portfolio. Many international bond ETFs hold debt securities denominated in foreign currency and can thus be used to hedge against a decline in the value of the dollar. Other international bond ETFs, especially those targeting bond issues in emerging markets, hold foreign debt securities denominated in U.S. dollars and do not expose investors to currency risk. While all international bond ETFs carry some risks, a variety of solid options are available to match most investors' needs.
1. Vanguard Total International Bond ETF
The Vanguard Total International Bond ETF (NASDAQ: BNDX) provides exposure to investment-grade government and corporate bonds denominated in foreign currencies. It seeks to track the U.S. dollar-hedged Barclays Global Aggregate ex-USD Float Adjusted RIC Capped Index. This index is designed as a measure of worldwide investment-grade, fixed-rate debt markets and includes more than 8,000 bonds. The Vanguard Total International Bond ETF employs a passively managed index-sampling strategy to closely approximate the characteristics of the underlying index.
As of November 2015, BNDX has about $50 billion in net assets across 3,927 bonds. A full 57% of the bonds in the fund originated in Europe, while another 27.9% originated in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan has the largest allocation of bonds at 22%, while France has an allocation of 11.5%. Rounding out the rest of the top five countries are Germany with 9.9%, the United Kingdom with 9% and Italy with 8.3%. Although the fund's debt holdings are denominated in foreign currency, it enters into currency hedging transactions to match the results of the underlying index, which itself is dollar-hedged, and to shield investors from currency risk. BNDX has an expense ratio of 0.19%.
2. Vanguard Emerging Markets Government Bond ETF
The Vanguard Emerging Markets Government Bond ETF (NASDAQ: VWOB) seeks to track the performance of the Barclays USD Emerging Markets Government RIC Capped Index. This index is designed as a measure of investment returns on U.S. dollar-denominated bonds issued by governments, government agencies and government-owned corporations in more than 50 emerging-market economies. VWOB utilizes a sampling strategy to invest in a group of debt securities that approximates the risk factors and other qualities found in the underlying index.
As of November 2015, VWOB includes about $650.5 million in total net assets across 866 bonds. The fund's largest allocation is to China at 12.5%. Other allocations greater than 5% include Mexico at 8.4%, Brazil at 7.9%, Russia at 7.3%, Indonesia at 5.9%, Turkey at 5.8% and the United Arab Emirates at 5.3%. Given its focus, VWOB has high exposure to emerging market risk. It also includes a mix of investment-grade and below-investment-grade bonds. About 21.9% of bonds in the fund carry an investment-grade rating from Moody's Investors Service of Aa or A. About 45.6% of bonds in the fund carry a medium-quality rating of Baa. The remaining 32.5% of bonds are high-yield bonds rated below Baa. VWOB has an expense ratio of 0.34%.
3. PowerShares International Corporate Bond ETF
The PowerShares International Corporate Bond ETF (NYSEARCA: PICB) offers investors exposure to investment-grade corporate bonds issued in foreign currency. PICB seeks to track the performance of the S&P International Corporate Bond Index, which measures the performance of investment-grade corporate debt issued in the currencies of the Group of Ten (G-10) nations, not including the U.S. dollar. The currencies include the Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, British pound, Japanese yen, Norwegian krone, New Zealand dollar, Swedish krona, Swiss franc and euro.
PICB employs a representative sampling approach to approximate the characteristics of the underlying index. As of November 2015, PICB holds about $189 million in net assets across 357 bonds. About 50.6% of assets are allocated to Euro-denominated bonds, 32.8% to British pound-denominated bonds and 13.3% to Canadian dollar-denominated bonds. No other currency allocation is greater than 1.1%. Approximately 52% of the fund is allocated to the financial services sector, 17.2% is allocated to the utilities sector and 7.8% is allocated to the telecommunications sector. PICB has an expense ratio of 0.5%.
4. iShares International Treasury Bond ETF
The iShares International Treasury Bond ETF (NASDAQ: IGOV) provides investors exposure to investment-grade government bonds denominated in foreign currencies. This ETF seeks to track the investment results of the S&P/Citigroup International Treasury Bond Ex-U.S. Index, which measures the performance of treasuries issued by 18 developed-market governments outside the United States. IGOV employs a passive representative sampling strategy to approximate the investment profile of the underlying index.
As of November 2015, IGOV includes about $482 million in net assets spread across 600 debt securities. Just more than 22.5% of the fund is allocated to Japanese government bonds, the largest allocation by a substantial margin. French, German and Italian government bonds each account for more than 6% of the fund's assets, while bonds from the United Kingdom account for 5.5%, and bonds from Belgium and Spain account for about 4.7% each. More than 56% of IGOV assets carry a Standard & Poor's rating of AA or AAA, denoting high- or prime-grade investments, respectively. Approximately 4.7% of the assets in the fund are rated below investment grade. IGOV has an expense ratio of 0.35%.
5. SPDR DB International Government Inflation-Protected Bond ETF
The SPDR DB International Government Inflation-Protected Bond ETF (NYSEARCA: WIP) provides investors exposure to inflation-protected government bonds issued in foreign currencies by 17 national governments. WIP seeks to match the performance of the DB Global Government ex-US Inflation-Linked Bond Capped Index, which measures the performance of inflation-protected securities markets in developed and emerging-market economies around the world. The fund uses a passive sampling strategy to approximate the performance of the underlying index.
As of November 2015, WIP includes about $705 million in net assets across 137 securities. Approximately 18.9% of the fund is allocated to securities issued by the United Kingdom, 15.5% to French securities and 6.1% to Japanese securities. Other countries with more than 4% allocation include South Korea, Sweden, Israel, Canada, Italy, Germany, Chile, Mexico and Australia. WIP has an expense ratio of 0.5%.