The world of fixed-income exchange-traded funds (ETFs) is often visited by investors looking to bolster their income streams, diversify away from equities and add some assets with the potential to reduce portfolio volatility.
Many investors look to accomplish those objectives with U.S. government debt, which features essentially no credit risk, or investment-grade domestic corporate bonds. The latter asset class gives investors the ability to take advantage of credit opportunities with the potential to generate higher returns than those offered by U.S. Treasuries.
Fixed income investors willing to take on more risk in search of higher yields and potentially loftier returns often turn to high-yield corporate debt and junk bond ETFs. After trading lower last year amid four interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve and concerns that some credit downgrades could increase this year, the two largest junk bond ETFs are up an average of 9% year-to-date, an advantage of nearly 400 basis points over the Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index.
Some data points bode well for junk bond ETFs.
“That more upbeat forecast is reflected in the corporate bond market,” according to BlackRock. “Credit spreads, which is the extra yield (above Treasury yields) demanded on riskier corporate bonds, usually increase before recessions or market downturns. Yet today, credit spreads are still below-average and have been declining since the beginning of the year.”
Consider getting into high-yield corporate bond space with the following junk bond ETFs.
Junk Bond ETFs to Buy: SPDR ICE BofAML Broad High Yield Bond ETF (CJNK)
Expense Ratio: 0.15% per year, or $15 on a $10,000 investment.
The fee wars so prominent in the fund universe long ago made their way to the junk bond ETF space, and the SPDR ICE BofAML Broad High Yield Bond ETF (NYSEARCA:CJNK) has been part of that trend. For almost seven years, CJNK was configured as a different type of bond ETF, but earlier this year, it was reconfigured as a cost-effective junk bond ETF.
There have some nascent signs of investors matriculating to this junk bond ETF, but that pace could gain steam because CJNK has a lot of what investors are looking for. Notably, CJNK has a deep bench of nearly 1,100 holdings and it is one of the cheapest funds in this particular fixed-income category.
CJNK has an option-adjusted duration of 3.5 years and the average maturity of its holdings is 5.87 years. The fund has a 30-day SEC yield of 6.4%.
VanEck Vectors High-Yield Municipal Index ETF (HYD)
Expense Ratio: 0.35%
For the most part, municipal bonds are territory frequented by conservative investors, but the VanEck Vectors High-Yield Municipal Index ETF (NYSEARCA:HYD) is one avenue for adventure, sort of, in this corner of the fixed-income space. HYD’s 30-day SEC yield of 3.65% is not the stuff of typical junk bond ETFs, but it is about 170 basis points above the comparable yield on the investment-grade S&P National AMT-Free Municipal Bond Index.
While HYD is not the typical junk bond ETF, it offers some perks relative to other funds in this arena that are dedicated to corporate bonds.
“The tax-exempt status of high-yield municipal bonds provides a compelling risk/reward profile. Returns in other asset classes may have been attractive, but they come with both headline risk and volatility,” said VanEck in a recent note. “The strong results for muni investors, and especially high yield muni investors, in the first quarter of 2019 are not only welcome, but also an affirmation of how important municipal bonds are to the core strategy of constructing an individual portfolio.”
About 60% of HYD’s nearly 2,000 holdings are rated BBB, BB or B.
VanEck Vectors Emerging Markets High Yield Bond ETF (HYEM)
Expense Ratio: 0.40%
As has been widely noted, emerging markets stocks have had a rough go of things in recent months due to increased trade hostilities between the U.S. and China. However, emerging markets bond funds are holding up pretty well. The largest such ETF, which is comprised primarily of investment-grade debt, is higher by 9.5% year-to-date, representing a significant advantage over the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.
The VanEck Vectors Emerging Markets High Yield Bond ETF (NYSE:HYEM) is no slouch, either. This junk bond ETF is up 5.3% year-to-date.
Obviously, a junk bond ETF dedicated to debt issued in developing economies is going to be riskier than a domestic equivalent, but HYEM compensates investors for that risk with a 30-day SEC yield of 6.93%.
“Investors that include emerging markets corporate bonds within their fixed income portfolio may gain exposure to favorable long-term growth trends in emerging markets,” wrote Fran Rodilosso, head of Fixed Income ETF Portfolio Management at VanEck. “They may also potentially earn attractive yields and add diversification to a corporate bond portfolio. From a portfolio construction perspective, we believe that focusing on the high yield segment of this market may be a better option compared to a broad exposure that includes both investment grade and high yield securities.”
Over 89% of HYEM’s 547 holdings are rated BB or B.
Invesco Global Short Term High Yield Bond ETF (PGHY)
Expense Ratio: 0.35%
The Invesco Global Short Term High Yield Bond ETF (NYSEARCA:PGHY) is a junk bond ETF with two perks. First, the fund helps investors diversify away from U.S. debt with exposure to nine countries in addition to the U.S. Second, PGHY keeps interest rate risk to a minimum with an effective duration of just 1.15 years.
Of PGHY’s nine ex-U.S. geographic weights, seven are emerging markets, including China, Turkey and Brazil. This junk bond ETF is home to mostly corporate debt, over 37% of which is issued by financial services and consumer discretionary companies.
About 72% of PGHY’s holdings are rated BBB, BB or B and while this junk bond ETF has a small allocation to speculative CCC-rated debt, it yields 6.43%, indicating there is adequate compensation for its international exposure.
ProShares High Yield—Interest Rate Hedged (HYHG)
Expense Ratio: 0.5%
As its name implies, the ProShares High Yield—Interest Rate Hedged (CBOE:HYHG) is a junk bond ETF designed to offer some buffer from rising interest rates. With rates not expected to rise this year and with some bond market observers speculating the Federal Reserve could even lower borrowing costs, the case for a junk bond ETF like HYHG appears to be diminished.
Actually, the opposite is true. IGHG is still up more than 5% this year, indicating there is still some reward for investors looking to prepare for a potential unforeseen reversal in Fed policy.
Even with the benefit of the interest rate hedge, HYHG does not skimp on yield, as highlighted by its 30-day SEC yield of 5.96%. This may not be the junk bond ETF to buy right now, but it makes sense to be prepared and at least keep HYHG on your personal bond ETF watch list.
As of this writing, Todd Shriber did not own any of the aforementioned securities.