NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Bond investors have taken some lumps lately. During the past month, the Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate bond index lost 1.6%, according to Morningstar. The slump was triggered by rising interest rates. When rates rise, bonds tend to fall. The hard going has left many investors struggling to find steadier income vehicles.
One solution could be ETFs that hold diversified collections of income sources. Besides foreign and U.S. bonds, the funds own dividend-paying stocks from around the world. The diversified ETFs, which yield 4% to 5%, have proved relatively resilient in the past month. Solid choices include
Guggenheim Multi-Asset Income ETF
iShares Morningstar Multi-Asset Income
SPDR SSgA Income Allocation ETF
A top performer is Guggenheim Multi-Asset Income, which yields 5.2%. The fund holds half a dozen different kinds of securities, including REITs and preferred shares -- which pay bond-like yields. The fund always keeps at least 50% of assets in dividend-paying stocks. Holdings include such blue chips as
and pharmaceutical giant
. The portfolio currently has 9% of assets in master limited partnerships (MLPs), which own pipelines and other assets that generate rich income. Boosted by the big stock stake, the fund returned 11.6% this year, compared to a loss of 1.0% for the Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate index.
In recent years, the Guggenheim ETF's diversified approach has paid dividends. When one asset slowed, others took the lead. Big rallies in REITs and MLPs lifted results. During the past five years, the fund returned 7.4% annually, compared to 5.8% for the S&P 500 and 5.4% for the Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate. The Guggenheim fund also topped competitors that hold only dividend stocks, including
iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend Index
, which returned 6.0% annually.
Also see: Ten Tips for Working from Home >>
The Guggenheim benchmark relies on a computerized model that aims to emphasize the most attractive assets. The system focuses on stocks with high yields, low prices, and earnings growth. As MLPs rallied in recent years, their allocation slipped because the shares had become rich.
The SPDR income allocation fund, which yields 4.0%, invests in a broad collection of ETFs. The portfolio recently had 18% of assets in
SPDR Barclays Long Term Corporate Bond
, 6% in
SPDR S&P Emerging Markets Dividend
, and 3% in
SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond
. The portfolio managers use quantitative models and their own judgment to set allocations. Fearing that government bonds are overpriced, the managers have been emphasizing corporate issues. The managers have also been tilting away from bonds and toward stocks. The portfolio currently has 44% of assets in equity funds, up from the neutral weighting of 35%. During the past year, the fund returned 13.4%, compared to 30.5% for the
and 0.8% for the Barclays U.S. Aggregate.
To limit the impact of rising interest rates, the SPDR fund has been emphasizing bonds with lower credit qualities. Those can be relatively resilient during periods when Treasuries fall. If rates continue climbing, the portfolio managers can add bonds with shorter maturities. Short-term bonds tend to suffer limited losses during periods of climbing rates.
The iShares income ETF, which yields 5.1%, tracks the Morningstar Multi-Asset Income Index. The benchmark holds about 60% of assets in fixed income, 20% in equity, and 20% in alternative income sources, such as REITs and preferred shares. The portfolio invests in a collection of iShares ETFs. Recently the fund had 6% of assets in
iShares High Dividend Equity
, 15% in
iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond
, and 5% in
iShares S&P U.S. Preferred Stock Index
. The allocations are adjusted by a Morningstar model that aims to maximize yields and returns while controlling risk. During the past year, the ETF returned 8.4%.
At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Stan Luxenberg is a freelance writer specializing in mutual funds and investing. He was executive editor of Individual Investor magazine.