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With yields low, investors seeking income are tempted to seek yield in other sectors where real rates of return after inflation can be found. Higher yields have traditionally been found in so-called High Yield (Junk) bonds with even greater historical returns from Emerging Markets.

With High Yield bonds a unique condition occurred after the bottom of the 2008 bear market in equities. Companies once considered investment grade, particularly in the financial sector, suddenly were found in the junk category. As many of these companies were bailed-out or subsidized by the government the sector became more attractive to opportunistic investors. Demand for yield and return of capital also stimulated investors no longer as interested in equities due to previous heavy losses. Further, demographics with an aging baby boomer population also fed the demand for both yield and perceived safety. Why junk then? The momentum from equities to bonds was strong and this combined with the dissatisfaction with low yields from more credit worthy sectors. Investors have rationalized greater safety in government subsidies than credit ratings would indicate to gain more yield.

Emerging markets offered new opportunities as well. With growth from these economies in high gear opinions regarding their debt improved correspondingly. With demand for yield high this allowed investors to rationalize investments in these sectors.

Nevertheless, High Yield and Emerging Market Bonds have historically traded at certain "spreads" to higher rated debt. These spreads given the odd factors of nearly zero interest rate policies in the U.S., the unique circumstances cited within the High Yield sector and economic growth in Emerging Markets have thrown traditional wide spreads between sector yields out of whack making analysis difficult.

Below are several tables and charts reflecting current conditions within these various sectors with yields and spreads one to another.

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Demand for yield is a condition not lost on ETF issuers and new products were issued and assets in these categories have grown substantially. We'll investigate some, not all, of the top issues in both these sectors.

Let's look at typical and more popular choices.


(iShares iBoxx High Yield Bond ETF) follows the iBoxx High Yield Index. The fund was launched in April 2007. The expense ratio is .50%. AUM (Assets under Management) equal $8 billion and average daily trading volume is just over 2M shares. As of mid-September 2011 the annual dividend is $2.94 making the current yield 7.95% and YTD return of -3.15%. As demand increases for both ETFs and mutual funds, supply considerations become more difficult to deal with for all sponsors. Over 40% of holdings are rated B and the average duration is less than 10 years. High yield will underperform if the economy weakens as companies with lower credit ratings may struggle to make interest payments.

Data as of September 2011

HYG Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

    Citigroup 7%: 1.24%

    Lyondell Chem 11%: 0.90%

    Citigroup 7%: 0.88%

    First Data 144A 12.625%: 0.74%

    Chs / Cmnty Health Sys 8.875%: 0.71%

    Intelsat Bermuda 11.25%: 0.71%

    Springleaf Fin 6.9%: 0.65%

    Energy Future Inter Hldg Co Ll 10%: 0.65%

    Ally Financial 8.3%: 0.61%

    Dish  6.75%: 0.61%

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    (SPDR Barclays Capital High Yield Bond ETF) follows the Barclays Capitial High Yield Very Liquid Index. The index follows company bonds with ratings in the middle range of high yield status (Ba1/BB+) and have $600 million in outstanding face value. The fund was launched in November 2007. The expense ratio is .40%. AUM equal $6.7 billion and average daily trading volume is 4.4M shares. As of mid-September 2011 the annual dividend yield is 8.37% and YTD return is -3.90%. The highest holdings consist of 50% rated B with an average duration of less than 10 years.   

    Data as of September 2011

    JNK Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

      Citigroup 7%:                                                   3.51%

      Lyondell Chemical 11%:                                   1.73%

      First Data 144A 12.625%:                                1.51%

      Harrah's Operations 10%:                                1.43%

      Intelsat Bermuda 11.25%:                                1.41%

      Energy Future International Holdings 10%:     1.12%

      Wind Acquisition Financial 11.75%:                 1.09%

      Clear Channel Holdings 9.25%:                       1.04%

      Residential Capital Corp 9.625%:                     1.01%

      FMG Resources PTY  7%:                              0.99%

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      (PowerShares Fundamental High Yield Bond ETF) follows the RAFI High Yield Bond Index which has more enhanced qualities to the index making it quasi-active. The official description consists of the index measuring the "theoretical portfolio of high yield bonds" of public companies listed on a major stock exchange. The fund was launched in November 2007. The expense ratio is .50%. AUM is $521M with average daily trading volume around 485K shares. As of mid-September the annual dividend yield is 7.89% and YTD return was -1.26%. Over 70% of the holding are rated BB which is higher than their two chief competitors while average duration is also less than 10 years.

      Data as of September 2011

      PHB Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

        Sprint Nextel 6%:                                             1.61%

        International Lease Finance 6.375%:               1.57%

        Weyerhaeuser 7.375%:                                   1.56%

        Ford Motor Credit Co 7%:                               1.26%

        Supervalu 8%:                                                 1.21%

        Dean Foods Co 7%:                                        1.17%

        International Lease Finance 8.25%:                 1.15%

        Ford Motor Credit Co 8%:                               1.15%

        Discover Bank 8.7%:                                        1.04%

        Penney J C Corp 5.65%:                                 1.04%

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        (PowerShares Senior Loan Portfolio ETF) follows the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan 100 Index. The index tracks the market-weighted of the largest institutional leveraged loans. It was launched in March 2011. The expense ratio is .83%. AUM of $159 million and the average daily trading volume is over 152K shares. As of mid-September 2011 the YTD return is -5.92% over the short history. Average credit ratings are evenly divided between BB and B with the average duration around 5 years.

        Data as of September 2011

        BKLN Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

          Tribune Company 06/04/14: 2.03%

          Harrah's Operat 01/28/15: 1.96%

          Texas Comp Elec 10/10/17: 1.71%

          Intelsat Jackso 04/02/18: 1.71%

          First Data Corp 03/24/18: 1.67%

          Clear Channel Tl 1/29/16: 1.60%

          Community Healt 07/25/14: 1.58%

          Cit Group Inc., 08/11/15: 1.48%

          Texas Comp Nonext10/10/14: 1.46%

          Biomet, Inc. 03 03/25/15: 1.44%

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          (Peritus High Yield ETF) is an "active" high yield ETF meaning it doesn't follow a fixed index. The fund was launched in December 2010. More is expected of an actively managed product and that's reflected in the higher expense ratio of 1.35%. AUM is low but rising and now stands at $53M making it profitable for both the advisor and sponsor. This is important since new products like this need to be successful to endure and assure investors it's a going concern. Average daily trading volume is 17K shares. Credit quality for many bonds is unavailable while the average current duration is less than 7 years. Remember, an Active ETF can change its holdings anytime and without much history and credit ratings you can only regard this issue as riskier. As of mid-September the YTD performance is -2.35%.

          Data as of September 2011

          HYLD Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

            Sgs Intl 12%: 4.67%

            Harland Clarke Hldgs 9.5%: 3.49%

            Affinion Grp 7.875%: 3.17%

            Air Canada 144A 12%: 3.10%

            Cedc Fin Corp Intl 9.125%: 3.03%

            Rotech Healthcare 10.5%: 2.87%

            Radnet 10.375%: 2.85%

            United Refng 10.5%: 2.75%

            Dyncorp Intl 10.375%: 2.73%

            Bioscrip 10.25%: 2.68%

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            (iShares JP Morgan Emerging Market Bond ETF) follows the JP Morgan Emerging Market Bond Index which is a US dollar based benchmark tracking actively traded emerging market debt instruments. The fund was launched in December 2007. The expense ratio is .60%. AUM exceeds $3.3B with average daily trading volume around 385K shares. As of mid-September 2011 the annual dividend was $2.26 making the current yield just over 2%. This doesn't seem generous for a bond fund with this credit quality and average duration 13 years and credit rating for roughly half the holdings of BBB with the balance of lower quality. 

            Data as of September 2011

            EMB Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

              Philippines Rep 7.75%:                        4.11%

              Republic Of Turkey 7.25%:                 4.10%

              Republic Of Turkey 6.875%:               3.82%

              Russian Federation 7.5%:                    3.54%

              Brazil Federative Rep 7.125%:            2.94%

              Kazmunaigaz Finance 9.125%:            2.79%

              Republic of Indonesia 6.875%:            2.74%

              Republic of Peru 6.55%:                      2.68%

              Republic of Lebanon 9%:                    2.62%

              Petronas Capital 5.25%:                       2.51%

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              (PowerShares Emerging Markets Debt ETF) follows the DB Emerging Market USD Liquid Balanced Index. This is another more actively adjusted index using a theoretical portfolio of emerging market debt instruments. The country debt is reselected annually based on a proprietary methodology. The ETF was launched in November 2007. The expense ratio is .50%, AUM is $1.3B and average daily trading volume is around 475K shares. As of mid-September 2011 the annual dividend yield is 2.76% and YTD return 4.06%. The funds average duration is roughly 8.5 years and 47% of assets posses a credit quality of BBB with the balance mostly of a lesser rating.

              Data as of September 2011

              PCY Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

                Bulgaria Rep 8.25%:                4.26%

                Korea Rep 5.125%:                 2.31%

                Lithuania Rep 6.75%:   2.28%

                Vietnam(Soc Rep) 6.875%:      2.27%

                Hungary Rep 4.75%:               2.25%

                Vietnam (Soc Rep) 6.75%:       2.22%

                Croatia(Rep Of) 6.625%:         2.20%

                Pakistan(Rep Of) 6.875%:       2.20%

                Croatia(Rep Of) 6.75%:           2.06%

                Hungary Rep 6.25%:               2.06%

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                (Wisdom Tree Emerging Markets Local Debt Fund) doesn't seem to be following an established index that we can tell. It's based on local currency issues from a variety of emerging market countries. If there's pressure on the US dollar then perhaps some country currencies will outperform adding more to returns. Naturally the opposite can be the case. The fund was launched in September 2010. ELD has an expense ratio of .55%, AUM of $875M and average daily trading volume of 327K shares. The credit quality is quite mixed with most assets greater than BBB which is unique for the category. The average duration is less than 10 years while the average yield to maturity is 5.75%. As of mid-September 2011 the annual dividend was $1.22 with a annualized dividend yield of 2.37%. The YTD return was -.63%.

                Data as of September 2011

                ELD Top Ten Holdings & Weightings

                  Russian Foreign Bond 7.85% 3/10/2018: 3.83%

                  Brazil Federative Rep 10.25%: 3.76%

                  Brazil Federative Rep 12.5%: 3.62%

                  Chile Rep 5.5%: 2.90%

                  Malaysia 3.835%: 2.85%

                  Malaysia 4.012%: 2.80%

                  Malaysia: 2.65%

                  Indonesia(Rep Of) 7.375%: 2.29%

                  Turkey(Rep Of) 10%: 2.25%

                  Indonesia(Rep Of) 8.375%: 2.18%

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                  (Wisdom Tree Asia Local Debt ETF) is another offering from Wisdom Tree not tied to a particular index. Clearly the focus is on Asian market debt (ex-Japan) with the idea to capture both yield and perhaps even enhanced return from local currency appreciation. This, of course, is a door that swings both ways. The fund was launched in March of 2011. The expense ratio is .55%. AUM equal $650M with average daily trading volume of 130K shares. Asset quality is quite mixed with 43% AAA and 43% Non-rated. Some of this is due to the unique nature of using forward contracts to buy securities. The average duration of the fund is between 2-7 years. The holdings data below are approximate and due to high portfolio turnover due to forward contract rollover is hard to fix. As of mid-September 2011 the YTD return was 3.63%.  

                  Data as of September 2011

                  ALD Top Ten Holdings & Holdings

                    Singapore(Govt Of) 1.625%: 5.23%

                    Singapore(Govt Of) 2.5%: 4.83%

                    Dreyfus Instl Preferred MMkt Prime: 4.55%

                    Philippines Rep 4.95%: 3.94%

                    Australia 6.25%: 3.90%

                    Korea(Republic Of) 3.75%: 3.81%

                    New Zealand(Govt) 6%: 3.78%

                    Malaysia: 3.13%

                    Korea(Republic Of) 4%: 3.00%

                    Thailand(Kingdom) 3.125%: 2.94%

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                    (Market Vectors Emerging Markets Local Currency Bond ETF) is another relatively new issue from Van Eck which is similar in theme to what we've just noted from Wisdom Tree. What distinguishes it among other things is that it's linked to and index: JP Morgan Government Bond Index Emerging Markets Global Core Index (a mouthful that's for sure).  The fund was launched in July 2010. The expense ratio is .49%. AUM equal $547M and average trading volume is 233K shares. As per an interview done last fall with Van Eck their goal is to achieve yield and return using emerging market debt in local currency. The average maturity is roughly 6.5 years and credit quality is primarily investment grade with only 13% below investment grade. The YTD return has been roughly 4% and the average yield to maturity is 6.35%. 

                    Data as of September 2011

                    EMLC Top Ten Holdings & Weightings


                    Chile Govt Bond  5.5%  3.05%


                    Rushydo JSC  7.875%   2.54%                                               


                    Eskom Holdings  9.25%           2.46%


                    Transnet LTD  10.80%            2.36%


                    Republic of Colombia 12%  2.29%


                    Poland Govt. 5.50%  1.99%


                    Banco de Brazil  9.75%            1.81%


                    Malaysia Government 4.375% 1.72%


                    Philippines (Rep) 4.95% 1.66%


                    Republic of Colombia 7.75% 1.61%

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                    Once again we've chosen to keep the list to 10 although other issues are and will continue to make their presence felt. All of this is a matter of choice for any investor. These lists remain long and sometimes quite repetitive as components vary little one to another. The real choice here remains in other factors beyond maturity risk but go to quality assessment and risk.

                    While the quest for yield given changing demographics dominates investment preferences, investors are advised to recognize added risks inherent in high yield and emerging market debt. Even should global interest rates drop due to economic weakness this may not transfer to weaker credits as some may suffer serious declines in such an environment. This has happened frequently before.

                    As stated with other sectors, remember ETF sponsors must issue and their interests aren't aligned with yours. They have a business interest and wish to have a competitive presence in any popular sector.

                    For further information about portfolio structures using ETFs and technical indicators like DeMark and others see


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                    (Source for holding data is from various sponsors and 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.