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A Safer Way to Get High Yields

Stocks in this article: STIAX FRSTX JHFIX

Investors seeking a tamer choice may prefer Franklin Strategic Income. During the past ten years, the fund returned 7.9% annually. Franklin typically has between 20% and 40% of assets in high-yield bonds. The allocation last dipped near the low end of the range in 2007 and early 2008. At the time, confident investors had little concern about defaults, and they bid up prices of shaky issues. As a result, high-yield bonds only yielded 300 basis points (3 percentage points) more than Treasuries. By shifting away from high yield, Franklin limited losses in 2008 and outdid most of its peers. The fund now has 28% of assets in high yield.

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Franklin has 18% of assets in floating-rate loans. Those yield about 5.5%. The floating issues are loans made by banks to companies with below-investment grade credit. Because the loans are senior secured debt, they are considered safer than high-yield bonds. In the event of a default, owners of loans are paid before high-yield bond investors receive anything. If interest rates rise, the yields of the floating-rate issues adjust upwards. That helps the bank loans to be resilient during periods when most other fixed-income assets are sinking. "Bank loans tend to be more stable than high-yield bonds," says Eric Takaha, a Franklin portfolio manager.

Another fund that performed well in 2008 is John Hancock Strategic Income. During the past ten years, John Hancock returned 7.8% annually. A year and a half ago, the fund had more than 40% of assets in high-yield bonds. Since then the portfolio managers have lowered the allocation as prices appreciated. Now the fund has 34% of assets in the sector.

John Hancock has been increasing its stake in emerging markets bonds, which now account for 25% of assets. Portfolio manager Dan Janis especially likes bonds from emerging Asian countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The Asian economies remain healthy as domestic consumption increases. While credit rating agencies have downgraded the U.S. and European countries, many of the Asian economies have been getting stronger. "Indonesia has been upgraded every year for the last three years, and the Philippines is in the process of being upgraded," says Janis.

Stan Luxenberg is a freelance writer specializing in mutual funds and investing. He was executive editor of Individual Investor magazine.
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