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In an era of low interest rates, and perhaps distrust of equity markets, investing for income has become popular and a challenge. Another factor is demographics as baby boomers age they reduce risk-taking and increase the desire for income.

There are many ETF sectors to choose from where yield is a prime consideration along with quality. With fixed income and bond,s the menu consists of the following: corporate, high yield, municipal, emerging market, government, international government, inflation-protected, mortgage-backed and preferred stock.

Many institutional investors (insurance companies and large pension plans) must have an allocation to bonds. Many asset allocation plans include bonds for individual investors. And, clearly savers and seniors especially gravitate to them for safety and income.

We'll be evaluating most of these issues and sectors beginning with corporate bonds. While we haven't included all that are available, we've sorted the top ten below by AUM (Assets under Management) but due to low prevailing interest rates also evaluate fees.

Corporate bond yields range from 2% to 4% overall. Investors should remember most corporate bond issues have call dates which would mandate early redemption at the option of the issuer. These can limit capital appreciation as existing issues are refinanced at lower interest rates.

Corporate bond supply is quite plentiful given low yields. This has made it compelling for companies to take advantage of low-cost funding for many purposes including stock buy-backs and rebuilding balance sheets.

Typically most bond issues and sectors are not correlated to stocks. This was especially true during the previous bear market. However, recently given unusual Fed policies combining ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policies) with QE (Quantitative Easing) these non-correlations have become less apparent. This may prove temporary.

We rank the top 10 ETFs by our proprietary stars system as outlined below. If an ETF you're interested in is not included but you'd like to know a ranking send an inquiry to

support@ETFDigest.com

and we'll attempt to satisfy your interest.

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Strong established linked index

Excellent consistent performance and index tracking

Low fee structure

Strong portfolio suitability

Excellent liquidity

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Established linked index even if "enhanced"

Good performance or more volatile if "enhanced" index

Average to higher fee structure

Good portfolio suitability or more active management if "enhanced" index

Decent liquidity

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Enhanced or seasoned index

Less consistent performance and more volatile

Fees higher than average

Portfolio suitability would need more active trading

Average to below average liquidity

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Index is new

Issue is new and needs seasoning

Fees are high

Portfolio suitability also needs seasoning

Liquidity below average

We feature a technical view of conditions from monthly chart views. Simplistically, we recommend longer-term investors stay on the right side of the 12 month simple moving average. When prices are above the moving average, stay long, and when below remain in cash or short. Some more interested in a fundamental approach may not care so much about technical issues preferring instead to buy when prices are perceived as low and sell for other reasons when high; but, this is not our approach.

Premium members to the ETF Digest

receive added signals when markets become extended such as DeMark triggers to exit overbought/oversold conditions.

For traders and investors wishing to hedge, leveraged and inverse issues are available to utilize from ProShares and Direxion and where available these are noted.

#1:

iShares

iBoxx Investment Grade Bond ETF (LQD)

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LQD

tracks the iBoxx Liquid Investment Grade Index comprising over 600 bond issues. The fund was launched in July 2002. The expense ratio is .15%. AUM (Assets under Management) equal $17 billion and daily trading volume averages 1.5M shares. Over 70% of constituent holdings have maturities between 3-10 years and 35% are within the financial sector. This would be considered moderate and offers less duration risk.  As of mid-January 2012 the annual dividend yield was 3.91% with YTD .66%. One year return was 9.44%.

Data as of First Quarter 2012

LQD Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

    At&T 5.5%: 0.70%

    At&T 6.55%: 0.68%

    Wells Fargo & Co New 5.625%: 0.67%

    Wal Mart Stores 6.5%: 0.67%

    JP Morgan Chase 6.3%: 0.58%

    Verizon  8.75%: 0.58%

    Comcast Corp New 6.95%: 0.57%

    Credit Suisse New York Branch 5.3%: 0.57%

    General Electric 5.625%: 0.56%

    Citigroup 8.5%: 0.55%

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    #2:

    iShares

    1-3 Year Credit Bond ETF (CSJ)

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    CSJ

    tracks the Barclays Capital U.S. 1-3 year Credit Bond Index which includes corporate and sovereign debt and non-U.S. agency bonds. The bonds held are shorter-term in duration clearly virtually eliminating duration risk. Bonds within the holdings are all investment grade. The fund was launched in January 2007. The expense ratio is .20%. AUM is over $9 billion and trading volume averages over 700K shares daily.  As of mid-January 2012 the annual dividend yield was 1.62% and YTD return .12%. The one year return was 1.88%.

    Data as of First Quarter 2012

    CSJ Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

      European Investment Bank 1.5%: 0.94%

      Intl Ban For Recon & 1.125%: 0.83%

      Kreditanstalt Fur Wiederaufbau 1.875%: 0.79%

      European Investment Bank: 0.77%

      Citigroup 6.5%: 0.76%

      Kreditanstalt Fur Wiederaufbau 2.75%: 0.73%

      Intl Bk For Recon & 1.75%: 0.72%

      Kreditanstalt Fur Wiederaufbau 1.375%: 0.72%

      General Elec 5%: 0.71%

      Asian Dev Bk: 0.70%

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      (NOTE: With recent European sovereign downgrades this pie chart could change soon.)

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      #3:

      iShares

      Barclays Intermediate Bond ETF (CIU)

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      CIU

      follows the Barclays Intermediate Credit Bond Fund Profile which consists of investment grade bonds with maturities of greater than one year but less than 10 years. The fund was launched in January 2007. The expense ratio is .20%. AUM equal $4.5 billion with average daily trading volume 346K shares. As of mid-January the annual dividend yield was 2.74% and YTD return .11%. The 1 year return was 5.19%.

      Data as of First Quarter 2012

      CIU Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

        European Investment Bank 1.25%: 0.50%

        European Investment Bank 4.625%: 0.47%

        Kreditanstalt Fur Wiederaufbau 1.375%: 0.41%

        Intl Bank For Recon & 2.125%: 0.34%

        Kreditanstalt Fur Wiederaufbau 4.375%: 0.34%

        Ontario Prov Canada 2.3%: 0.33%

        Cisco Sys 5.5%: 0.31%

        JP Morgan Chase 6%: 0.31%

        Italy Rep 4.5%: 0.30%

        European Investment Bank: 0.28%

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        (NOTE: Recent sovereign downgrades in European debt will negatively affect credit quality going forward.)

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        #4:

        Vanguard

        Short-term Corporate Bond ETF (VCSH)

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        VCSH

        also tracks the Barclays Capital U.S. 1-5 Year Corporate Index which includes U.S. dollar-denominated, investment-grade securities. Vanguard in general would like to compete with similar offerings based on lower fees. And, if you're an investor with a shorter term investment horizon and with interest rates this low, fees would matter. The fund was launched in November 2009. The expense ratio is .15% versus .20% for other similar products with yields already low making some difference. AUM equal $2.3 billion and average daily trading volume is 366K shares. As of mid-January 2012 the annual dividend was 2.30% and YTD return .24%. The one year return was 2.79%.

        Data as of First Quarter 2012

        VCSH Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

          General Electric 5.45%: 1.05%

          Wells Fargo & Co  4.375%: 0.90%

          JP Morgan Chase 3.7%: 0.88%

          General Electric 1.875%: 0.83%

          Bank of America 4.9%: 0.78%

          Citigroup 5.5%: 0.77%

          Wells Fargo Co  3.75%: 0.76%

          US Treasury Note 1%: 0.70%

          Goldman Sachs  3.7%: 0.67%

          Verizon Wireless Cap 5.55%: 0.62%

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          #5:

          iShares

          Barclays Credit Bond ETF (CFT)

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          TheStreet Recommends

          CFT

          follows the Barclays Credit Bond Index which includes dollar denominated corporate and agency debt and have maturities greater than one year. In the top ten holdings you'll note a mix between dollar denominated overseas issues and even a municipal bond issue. The fund was launched in January 2007.The annual expense ratio is .20%. AUM equal $1.1 billion and average daily trading volume is roughly 155K shares. Nearly 75% of current maturities are within 10-years. As of mid-January 2012 the annual yield is 3.27% and YTD return .43%. The one year return was 8.98%.

          Data as of First Quarter 2012

          CFT Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

            European Investment Bank 1.5%: 0.44%

            European Investment Bank: 0.42%

            JP Morgan Chase 3.45%: 0.39%

            Amgen 5.85%: 0.35%

            Intl Bank For Recon & 1%: 0.34%

            BHP Billiton Fin Usa 6.5%: 0.26%

            Goldman Sachs Grp 3.625%: 0.25%

            Bank of America 5%: 0.24%

            International American Dev Bank 3.875%: 0.23%

            General Electric 5.875%: 0.22%

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            (NOTE: Recent sovereign downgrades in European debt will negatively affect credit quality going forward.)

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            #6:

            Vanguard

            Intermediate Term-Corporate Bond ETF (VCIT)

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            VCIT

            tracks the Barclays Capital U.S. 5-10 Year Corporate Bond Index. The fund was launched in November 2009. The expense ratio is .15%. AUM equal $1 billion while average daily trading volume is 109KK shares. As of mid-January 2012 the annual yield was 3.86% and YTD return .49%. The one year return was 8.66%.

            Data as of First Quarter 2012

            VCIT Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

              CMT Market Liquidity Rate: 1.71%

              General Electric 6%: 1.06%

              Morgan Stanley 5.5%: 0.85%

              At&T 5.5%: 0.79%

              Goldman Sachs 6.15%: 0.71%

              Morgan Stanley 5.45%: 0.71%

              Wells Fargo & Co New 5.625%: 0.68%

              Verizon Communications 5.5%: 0.63%

              American International Group 6.4%: 0.58%

              Bank of America 5.65%: 0.58%

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              #7:

              SPDR

              Barclays Capital Short-term Bond ETF (SCPB)

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              SCPB

              follows the Barclays Capital U.S. 1-3 Year Corporate Bond Index. The Barclays Capital U.S. 1-3 Year Corporate Bond Index is designed to measure the performance of the short term U.S. corporate bond market. The Index includes publicly issued U.S. dollar denominated corporate issues that have a remaining maturity of greater than or equal to 1 year and less than 3 years, are rated investment grade (must be Baa3/BBB- or higher. The fund was launched in December 2009. The expense ratio is a low .12%. AUM equal $397M while average daily trading volume is 106K shares. As of mid-January 2012 the annual dividend yield was 1.74% and YTD return .90%. The one year return was 1.98%.

              Data as of First Quarter 2012

              SCPB Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

                General Electric 4.8%: 1.01%

                Citigroup 5.5%: 0.80%

                Cs First Boston 5%: 0.79%

                General Electric 5%: 0.75%

                Goldman Sachs 5.25%: 0.75%

                Wachovia Corp 5.5%: 0.75%

                Citigroup 6.5%: 0.72%

                Citigroup 5%: 0.69%

                Morgan Stanley 6%: 0.68%

                BP Capital 5.25%: 0.65%

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                #8:

                SPDR

                Barclays Capital Intermediate Term Bond ETF (ITR)

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                ITR

                tracks the Barclays Capital Intermediate U.S. Corporate Index. The index includes dollar denominated debt from U.S. and non-U.S. industrial utility and financial institutions with less than 10 year durations. The fund was launched in February 2009. The expense ratio is .15%. AUM equals $222M and the average daily trading volume is 45K shares. As of mid-January 2012 the annual dividend yield was 3.39% and YTD return .72%. The one year return was 5.22%.

                Data as of First Quarter 2012

                ITR Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

                  General Electric 4.8%: 1.02%

                  American Express 7.25%: 0.64%

                  Morgan Stanley 3.45%: 0.63%

                  Goldman Sachs Grp 5.95%: 0.61%

                  Bear Stearns Cos 7.25%: 0.57%

                  Morgan Stanley 4.75%: 0.56%

                  Comcast Corp New 5.7%: 0.54%

                  Merrill Lynch Co Inc Mtn Be 6.875%: 0.52%

                  Morgan Stanley 5.625%: 0.52%

                  American International Group 5.85%: 0.51%

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                  Vanguard

                  Long-term Corporate Bond ETF (VCLT)

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                  VCLT

                  tracks the Barclays Capital U.S. Long Corporate Index which is investment grade, dollar denominated with maturities greater than 10 years. The fund was launched in November 2009. The expense ratio is .15%. AUM equal $400M and average daily trading volume is roughly 56K shares. As of mid-January 2012 the annual dividend yield is 4.58% and YTD return .44%. The one year return is 18.60%.

                  Data as of First Quarter 2012

                  VCLT Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

                    CMT Market Liquidity Rate: 1.58%

                    General Electric 6.75%: 1.22%

                    AT&T 8%: 1.14%

                    Pfizer 7.2%: 0.93%

                    Wal Mart Stores 6.5%: 0.90%

                    Comcast Corp New 6.95%: 0.79%

                    AT&T 6.8%: 0.76%

                    Goldman Sachs  6.75%: 0.75%

                    Deutsche Telekom  8.75%: 0.73%

                    Shell International Finance 6.375%: 0.69%

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                    #10:

                    Pimco

                    Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (CORP)

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                    CORP

                    tracks the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch U.S. Corporate Index with dollar denominated investment grade issues with maturities greater than one year. The fund was launched in September 2010. The expense ratio is .20%. AUM equal $187M with average daily trading volume of around 7K shares. One unique feature of CORP is that it rebalances its holdings monthly which might be a tax consideration for some investors. As of mid-January 2012 the annual dividend yield was 3.45% and YTD return 2.15%. The one year return was 7.31%.

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                    As the Fed continues to maintain a low interest rate policy while stock markets have been uncertain and volatile investors have flocked to bonds. To this observers must also take into account changing demographics which reflect an aging U.S. population demanding less risk and more yield on their investments. At some point investors may realize that yields, particularly for longer term issues will not exceed inflation and purchasing power. Once these facts dawn on investors, they'll seek higher returns elsewhere. For now however, the trend is your friend.

                    It's also important to remember that ETF sponsors have their own competitive business interests when issuing products which may not necessarily align with your investment needs. New ETFs from highly regarded and substantial new providers are also being issued. These may include Charles Schwab's ETFs and Scottrade's Focus Shares which both are issuing new ETFs with low expense ratios and commission free trading at their respective firms. These may also become popular as they become seasoned. 

                    For further information about portfolio structures using technical indicators like DeMark and other indicators, take a free 14-day trial at

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                    The ETF Digest has no current positions in the featured ETFs.

                    (Source for data is from ETF sponsors and various ETF data providers)

                    This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

                    Dave Fry is founder and publisher of

                    ETF Digest

                    , Dave's Daily blog and the best-selling book author of

                    Create Your Own ETF Hedge Fund, A DIY Strategy for Private Wealth Management

                    , published by Wiley Finance in 2008. A detailed bio is here:

                    Dave Fry.