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Four ETFs That Leave Bonds in the Dust


It's a good time to find solid stock exchange traded funds that have bond-beating income and a lot of appreciation potential to boot.

It's a good rule of thumb: When stocks yield more than bonds, stocks are the better buy because of the potential for growth.

Believe it or not, before the financial crisis in 2008 that was hardly the case. Going all the way back to 1958, bond yields always outpaced those of stocks.

But thanks to Ben Bernanke and friends, bond yields have been driven into the basement. What's more, the central banks of the world are doing everything in the power to keep them there.

That's why investors are increasingly turning to exchange traded funds that specialize in dividend stocks as vehicles for income. This makes good sense for a couple of reasons. First, bond markets aren't very transparent, which makes bond prices difficult to come by, so ordinary investors get ripped off if they buy corporate bonds directly.

Second, in today's markets you will do better in a high-dividend stock ETF-especially one with an international portfolio-than you will in a bond ETF. Let me show you why that is.

Stock ETFs Vs. Bond ETFs

To see why stock ETFs are a better deal than bond ETFs, let's run through the five bond offerings of iShares, one of the largest and most solid creators of ETFs:
  • Aggregate Bond Fund (NYSEARCA:AGG): Buys investment-grade corporate, Treasury, and agency bonds, mostly AAA-rated, with an average maturity of 6.2 years. Yield in the last 30 days, as calculated by the SEC: 1.61%.
  • Investment Grade Corporate Bond Fund (NYSEARCA:LQD): Buys mostly corporate bonds with an average Standard and Poor's rating of A and an average maturity of 11.9 years. Yield: 2.97%.
  • High Yield Corporate Bond Fund (NYSEARCA:HYG): Buys high-yield "junk" corporate bonds with an average S&P debt rating of B+ and an average maturity of 4.34 years. Yield: 5.50%.
  • JPMorgan Emerging Markets Bond Fund (NYSEARCA:EMB): Tracks the JPMorgan "EMBI" emerging-market bond index. Average rating about BB- and average maturity 12.02 years. Yield: 3.58%.
  • Emerging Markets Corporate Bond Fund (BATS:CEMB): Average rating BBB, average maturity 7.99 years. Yield: 3.26%.
Now can you see the problem? In order to get a yield above 3% with decent credit risks, you have to go out beyond ten years in average maturity. In the current environment, ten years is a long time. What will happen to your investment if rates begin to rise? (I say if, but let's face it: The interest rate bubble cannot last forever.)

Notes of this duration leave you vulnerable to a huge amount of price risk if interest rates rise, because a 12-year bond will decline almost 10% in price if yields just rise 1% per annum.

On the other hand, to get a yield above 5%, investors in these funds have to go down to a credit quality that will be in severe danger if the US economy goes back into recession (or again if interest rates rise, since low-rated companies may not have cash flow to cover higher interest).
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