The Wide, Wide World Of Bond ETFs

Bonds are in the news these days, and not necessarily for bullish reasons. Between the threat of rising interest rates and the possibility of a Treasury default in the US, the notion of fixed-income as a safe haven is under pressure. But while it’s tempting to lump all bonds into one category, the reality (as usual in the capital markets) is far more nuanced. Indeed, if someone gives you their view on the “bond market,” your first question should be: Which one?

Keeping track of all the puzzle pieces in bond land can be challenging at times, but it’s always essential in our efforts for managing asset allocation and earning a respectable risk premium through time. With that in mind, let’s take a quick tour of the wide world of bonds from an ETF perspective, which, by the way, is part of the routine in The ETF Asset Class Performance Review, which does all the heavy lifting for you by dispensing a weekly recap of all the major asset classes and their principal subcategories. Here’s a taste of what you’ve been missing. Let’s start with US bonds, which can be divided into at least nine categories:
For the most part, returns in US fixed income have been flat to negative lately, with long-term Treasuries taking an especially heavy hit over the past year (250 days). The main exception: US junk bonds, which have bucked the general trend by dispensing a modest 4.8% advance for the past 250 trading days through yesterday, October 8.
US bonds, of course, are only one piece of the global fixed-income pie. Looking beyond these United States, one could separate foreign bonds across seven categories:
Not surprisingly, the dispersion of trailing returns is quite wide, which is a reminder that it’s always a mistake to consider foreign fixed-income as a unified market. Consider that foreign junk bonds have done quite well, rising more than 16% over the past year. Meantime, at the bottom of the horse race at the moment for the trailing 250-day period: emerging-market corporate (primarily investment-grade) bonds, which are off nearly 6% through October 8.
In short, bonds continue to deliver the raw material that drives productive rebalancing opportunities: a spectrum of performance results.