How Do Corporate Bond ETFs Work?

  • Bond ETFs are exchange-traded funds that invest in fixed-income assets such as corporate bonds and government bonds.
  • Bond ETFs are a low-cost solution for ordinary investors to acquire passive exposure to benchmark bond indices.
  • Bond ETFs are offered for Treasuries, corporates, convertibles, and floating-rate bonds, among other bond categories.
  • Investors should be aware of the risks associated with bond ETFs, as well as the impact of interest rate changes.

What makes bond ETFs profitable?

The closer a bond’s maturity date approaches, the more vulnerable it is to rate increases. When all other factors are equal, a 10-year bond has a higher interest rate risk than a five-year bond since your money is exposed to rising interest rates for a longer length of time.

A time-weighted measure of interest-rate risk is called duration. Duration predicts how a bond’s price will fluctuate in reaction to interest rate fluctuations. More interest-rate risk is associated with longer periods. A duration of 3.5, for example, suggests that if interest rates rise by 1%, the value of a bond will fall by 3.5 percent.

  • The duration is a guess, not a guarantee. Bond prices rise when interest rates fall, but this isn’t a one-to-one relationship. Price increases from dropping rates are undervalued by duration, whereas price declines from rising yields are overestimated.
  • Duration is based on a simplified interest-rate scenario. When interest rates move by 1% across all maturities, duration is calculated; in other words, when rates change, the entire yield curve shifts by 1% up or down. It’s rare that reality is so exact.

Bond ETFs typically pay out income on a monthly basis. One of the most appealing features of bonds is that they pay interest to investors on a regular basis, usually every six months. Bond ETFs, on the other hand, hold a variety of issues at once, and some of the bonds in the portfolio may be paying their coupons at any one time. As a result, bond ETFs often make monthly rather than semiannual coupon payments. This payment’s amount varies from month to month.

Traditional bond indexes are excellent benchmarks but poor portfolio builders. The majority of equities ETFs hold all of the securities in their index. However, with bonds, this is usually not achievable. Hundreds, if not thousands, of individual securities are frequently included in bond indexes. It’s not only tough, but also expensive to buy all those bonds for an ETF’s portfolio. Even if the purchase of thousands of bonds in illiquid markets has a minor impact on the index, the cost of doing so can significantly erode returns.

Managers of bond ETFs frequently tweak their indexes. To keep expenses down, fund managers must often pick and select which bonds from the bond index to include in the ETF. They’ll choose bonds that, based on credit quality, exposure, correlations, duration, and risk, provide the best representative sample of the index. The term “optimization” or “sampling” refers to this process.

Optimizing saves money, but it comes with its own set of hazards. Over time, an ETF’s returns may diverge from those of its index, depending on how aggressively its portfolio was optimized. The majority of ETFs closely track their underlying indexes; nevertheless, a few have fallen short of their benchmark by a few percentage points or more per year. (For further information, see “How To Run An Index Fund: Full Replication vs. Optimization.”)

Individual bond values are difficult to estimate. There is no one agreed-upon price for the value of every bond without an official exchange. Many bonds, in reality, do not trade on a daily basis; particular forms of municipal bonds, for example, can go weeks or months without trading.

To calculate NAV, fund managers need precise bond prices. Bond pricing services, which estimate the value of individual bonds based on recorded trades, trading desk surveys, matrix models, and other factors, are used by both mutual fund and ETF managers. Of course, nothing is certain. But it’s a reasonable guess.

The share price of an ETF isn’t the same as its NAV. The share price of a bond mutual fund is always the same as its net asset value, or the value of the underlying assets in the portfolio. The share price of a bond ETF, on the other hand, can fluctuate depending on market supply and demand. When share prices rise above NAV, premiums form, and when prices fall below NAV, discounts form. However, there is a natural mechanism in place to maintain the share price and NAV of a bond ETF in sync: arbitrage.

Arbitrage is used by APs to keep ETF share prices and NAV in sync. Authorized participants (APs), an unique class of institutional investors, have the right to create or destroy shares of the ETF at any moment. If an ETF’s share price falls below its NAV, APs can profit from the difference by purchasing ETF shares on the open market and trading them into the issuer in exchange for a “in kind” exchange of the underlying bonds. The AP only needs to liquidate the bonds in order to profit. Similarly, if the share price of an ETF increases above NAV, APs can buy individual bonds and exchange them for ETF shares. Arbitrage produces natural purchasing or selling pressure, which helps keep the share price and NAV of an ETF from drifting too far apart.

An ETF’s price may be significantly below its declared NAV in stressed or illiquid markets, or for an extended length of time. When this happens, it simply signifies that the ETF industry believes the bond pricing service is incorrect, and that the prices for the fund’s underlying bonds are being overestimated. In other words, the APs don’t think they’ll be able to sell the underlying bonds for their stated valuations. This means that the ETF price falls below its NAV, which is good news for ETF investors. (Any premiums that may accrue follow the same procedure.)

Large premiums and discounts in a bond ETF don’t always indicate mispricing. Highly liquid bond ETFs can perform price discovery for the bonds they hold, and an ETF’s market price can actually be a better approximation of the aggregate value of the underlying bonds than its own NAV.

Do ETFs that invest in corporate bonds pay dividends?

Individual bonds, on the other hand, are sold over the counter by bond brokers and trade on a controlled exchange throughout the day. Traditional bond structures make it difficult for investors to find a bond with a reasonable pricing. Bond exchange-traded funds (ETFs) sidestep this problem by trading on large indices like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

As a result, they can give investors access to the bond market while maintaining the convenience and transparency of stock trading. Individual bonds and mutual funds, which trade at one price each day after the market closes, are less liquid than bond ETFs. Investors can also trade a bond portfolio during difficult circumstances, even if the underlying bond market is not performing well.

Bond ETFs pay out interest in the form of a monthly dividend and capital gains in the form of an annual payout. These dividends are classified as either income or capital gains for tax purposes. Bond ETFs’ tax efficiency, on the other hand, isn’t a large concern because capital gains aren’t as important in bond returns as they are in stock returns. Bond ETFs are also available on a worldwide scale.

Is it possible to lose money on a bond ETF?

  • Market transparency is lacking. Bonds are traded over-the-counter (OTC), which means they are not traded on a single exchange and have no official agreed-upon price. The market is complicated, and investors may find that different brokers offer vastly different prices for the same bond.
  • High profit margins. Broker markups on bond prices can be significant, especially for smaller investors; according to one US government research, municipal bond markups can reach 2.5 percent. The cost of investing in individual bonds can quickly pile up due to markups, bid/ask gaps, and the price of the bonds themselves.
  • Liquidity issues. Liquidity of bonds varies greatly. Some bonds are traded daily, while others are traded weekly or even monthly, and this is when markets are at their best. During times of market turmoil, some bonds may cease to trade entirely.

A bond ETF is a bond investment in the form of a stock. A bond ETF attempts to replicate the performance of a bond index. Despite the fact that these securities only contain bonds, they trade on an exchange like stocks, giving them some appealing equity-like characteristics.

Bonds and bond ETFs may have the same underlying investments, however bond ETFs’ behavior is affected by exchange trading in numerous ways:

  • Bond ETFs do not have a maturity date. Individual bonds have a definite, unchanging maturity date when investors receive their money back; each day invested brings that day closer. Bond ETFs, on the other hand, maintain a constant maturity, which is the weighted average of all the bonds in the portfolio’s maturities. Some of these bonds may be expiring or leaving the age range that a bond ETF is targeting at any given time (e.g., a one- to three-year Treasury bond ETF kicks out all bonds with less than 12 months to maturity). As a result, fresh bonds are regularly purchased and sold in order to maintain the portfolio’s maturity.
  • Even in illiquid markets, bond ETFs are liquid. Single bonds have a wide range of tradability. Some issues are traded on a daily basis, while others are only traded once a month. They may not trade at all during times of stress. Bond ETFs, on the other hand, trade on an exchange, which means they can be purchased and sold at any time during market hours, even if the underlying bonds aren’t trading.

This has real-world ramifications. According to one source, high-yield corporate bonds trade on less than half of the days each month, but the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (HYG | B-64) trades millions of shares per day.

  • Bond ETFs pay a monthly dividend. One of the most appealing features of bonds is that they pay out interest to investors on a regular basis. These coupon payments are usually made every six months. Bond ETFs, on the other hand, hold a variety of issues at once, and some of the bonds in the portfolio may be paying their coupons at any one time. As a result, bond ETFs often pay interest monthly rather than semiannually, and the amount paid can fluctuate from month to month.
  • Diversification. You may own hundreds, even thousands, of bonds in an index with an ETF for a fraction of the cost of buying each issue individually. At retail prices, it’s institutional-style diversification.
  • Trading convenience. There’s no need to sift through the murky OTC markets to argue over rates. With the click of a button, you may purchase and sell bond ETFs from your regular brokerage account.
  • Bond ETFs can be bought and sold at any time during the trading day, even in foreign or smaller markets where individual securities may trade infrequently.
  • Transparency in pricing. There’s no need to guess how much your bond ETF is worth because ETF values are published openly on the market and updated every 15 seconds during the trading day.
  • More consistent revenue. Instead of six-monthly coupon payments, bond ETFs often pay interest monthly. Monthly payments provide bond ETF holders with a more consistent income stream to spend or reinvest, even if the value varies from month to month.
  • There’s no assurance that you’ll get your money back. Bond ETFs never mature, so they can’t provide the same level of security for your initial investment as actual bonds may. To put it another way, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your money back at some point in the future.

Some ETF providers, however, have recently began creating ETFs with defined maturity dates, which hold each bond until it expires and then disperse the proceeds once all bonds have matured. Under its BulletShares brand, Guggenheim offers 16 investment-grade and high-yield corporate bond target-maturity-date ETFs with maturities ranging from 2017 to 2018; iShares offers six target-maturity-date municipal ETFs. (See “I Love BulletShares ETFs” for more information.)

  • If interest rates rise, you may lose money. Rates of interest fluctuate throughout time. Bonds’ value may fall as a result of this, and selling them could result in a loss on your initial investment. Individual bonds allow you to reduce risk by simply holding on to them until they mature, at which point you will be paid their full face value. However, because bond ETFs don’t mature, there’s little you can do to avoid the pain of rising rates.

Individual bonds are out of reach for the majority of investors. Even if it weren’t, bond ETFs provide a level of diversification, liquidity, and price transparency that single bonds can’t match, plus intraday tradability and more regular income payouts. Bond ETFs may come with some added risks, but for the ordinary investor, they’re arguably a better and more accessible option.

Are bond ETFs a good investment?

Bond ETFs can be a great way for investors to diversify their portfolio fast by purchasing just one or two securities. However, investors must consider the drawbacks, such as a high expense ratio, which might eat into returns in this low-interest-rate environment.

In 2021, how will bonds perform?

Corporate bonds performed well in the first half of 2021, with high yield bonds leading the way. The price decreases linked to rising Treasury rates were cushioned by demand for yield and a stronger credit quality outlook. Despite this, investment-grade corporate bonds had negative total returns in the first half of the year, while lower-credit-quality high-yield bonds had positive total returns.

Bond ETFs are they considered fixed-income?

Fixed-income ETFs are bond funds whose shares are traded throughout the day on a stock exchange. There are fixed-income ETFs that track the Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index, as well as funds that track corporate, government, municipal, international, and global debt.

Which bond ETF is the safest?

Many investors’ portfolios include money market exchange-traded funds (ETFs) because they provide safety and capital preservation in a volatile market. These funds often invest in high-quality, highly liquid short-term debt instruments such as U.S. Treasury bonds and commercial paper, which don’t typically provide much income.

While the majority of money market ETFs’ assets are invested in cash equivalents or highly rated securities with extremely short maturities, some may invest a part of their assets in longer-term or lower-graded securities. Investors should be aware that these securities have more risks.

Despite the fact that all investments come with some risk, the following money market ETFs are a relatively safe choice for investors:

Continue reading to learn more about these investments. The data presented here is current as of May 11, 2021.

Is it true that bond ETFs are more tax-efficient?

ETFs, on the other hand, are more tax-efficient than mutual funds due to their structure. In this way, mutual funds simply cannot compete with ETFs. However, while ETFs have a tax advantage over stock funds, bond funds do not often have large capital gains.

Are bonds safe in the event of a market crash?

Bond funds are popular among risk-averse investors for a variety of reasons. U.S. Treasury bond funds are at the top of the list because they are considered to be one of the safest investments. Investors are not exposed to credit risk since the government’s capacity to tax and print money reduces the risk of default and protects the principal.

Bond funds that invest in mortgages securitized by the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) are backed by the United States government’s full faith and credit. The majority of mortgages securitized as Ginnie Mae mortgage-backed securities (MBS) are those insured by the Government Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs, or other federal housing agencies (usually, mortgages for first-time homebuyers and low-income borrowers).