When it comes to corporate bond ETFs, there is no fund more popular than iShares’ infamous iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond Fund, LQD. The king of corporate bonds maintains a portfolio worth over $23 billion in total assets, and trades nearly two million times a day on average. For investors looking for the most active and liquid ETF in this category, LQD is by far the best bet. But for those who wish to stray away from the mega-funds, there are a number of intriguing and worthwhile options in the space [see also How To Pick The Right ETF Every Time].
Thanks to the rapid development of the ETF industry, investors can now choose from a variety of products that fall under the corporate bond umbrella. Whether your looking to gain international exposure or want to establish a tactical tilt towards a particular sector, we profile five corporate bond ETFs, whose unique investment objectives may convince some investors to include them in their portfolios.
1. International Corporate Bond Portfolio (PICB)
PowerShares’ PICB offers investors an opportunity to access corporate bonds issued by international corporations, making it a potentially powerful tool for investors looking to diversify fixed-income exposure. PICB tracks an index that measures the performance of investment grade corporate bonds from non-U.S. issuers denominated in Australian Dollar, British Pound, Canadian Dollar, Euro, Japanese Yen, Swiss Franc, Danish Krone, New Zealand Dollar, Norwegian Krone and Swedish Krona.
Since its inception in 2010, PICB has steadily grown in popularity, accumulating over $105 million in total assets. But for those investors who want to capture a broader spectrum of the global corporate debt market, State Street’s IBND might be a better option since the fund does not exclude U.S. dollar denominated bonds.
2. Fundamental Investment Grade Corporate Bond Portfolio (PFIG)
As alternative weighting strategies have become increasingly popular over the years, investors have come to embrace PFIG as an effective tool for gaining corporate bond exposure in their portfolios. Most bond ETFs are linked to cap-weighted indexes that give the largest allocations to the biggest issuers of debt and to the most expensive securities. This method tends to overweight overvalued securities, as well underweight undervalued bonds [see also RAFI ETFdb Portfolio].
To address this issue, PFIG implements the RAFI weighting methodology, which involves considering fundamental measures of a company, such as size and cash flows, to determine weightings. With this methodology, PFIG’s portfolio is constructed with the goal of giving the largest weightings to the companies with the greatest ability to service their debt. But of course with this propriety weighting strategy comes a slightly higher price tag than LQD’s; PFIG’s expense ratio clocks in at 0.22%, which is still relatively inexpensive compared to other ETFs in the Corporate Bond ETFdb Category.
3. SPDR Barclays Capital Issuer Scored Corporate Bond ETF (CBND)
Another popular bond fund that uses alternative weighting methodologies, State Street’s CBND takes a fundamentally different approach to delivering exposure to the corporate debt market. Like PFIG, CBND’s goal is to avoid giving the largest allocations to the biggest debtors. To accomplish this, the fund uses three fundamental factors to determine the weight given to each issuer: return on assets, interest coverage and current ratio. As a result, CBND’s portfolio has a bias towards companies with strong cash flows and high credit qualities, a tilt that can create a unique risk/return profile relative to other corporate bond ETFs.
4. iShares Floating Rate Note Fund (FLOT)
This ETF allows investors to gain access to an entirely different segment of the corporate bond market: floating rate debt, an asset class that may be appealing to investors looking to minimize interest rate risk. FLOT invests in debt with coupon payments calculated in reference to a benchmark rate, such as LIBOR, meaning that the payments made by the underlying securities will fluctuate along with prevailing market interest rates. That results in an extremely low effective duration and almost no interest rate risk, but typically means that FLOT will offer lower yields than other ETFs in its category. Despite the lower yields, FLOT may be appealing for investors who are bullish on interest rates or for those who simply want to round out fixed-income exposure in their portfolios [see also Better-Than-AGG Total Bond Market ETFdb Portfolio].
5. Industrial Sector Bond Fund (ENGN)
For those investors who wish to fine-tune their fixed income exposure, iShares’ ENGN offers a way to invest in U.S. corporate debt specifically from the industrial sector. But some may be surprised to find the degree of diversity offered by ENGN. Many of the issuers that make up this ETF are not classified as industrial companies, including AT&T, Anheuser Busch and Pepsi. Despite the discrepency, investors still utilize ENGN in their portfolios since the fund is essentially an ex-financial ETF (a majority of corporate bond holdings are concentrated in financials).
iShares also offers two other sector corporate bond funds: MONY and AMPS. MONY provides investors with exposure to corporate debt from financial institutions. Its holdings includes the Who’s Who of Wall Street: companies such as Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo are among the issuing institutions. AMPS is designed to invest in debt securities from utilities companies, which can often provide a slightly higher yield than LQD.
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Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.