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Wed. Mar. 24, 2010

Increasing Dividend Yield Part IV: Bonds *

This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series that looks at various options used by income investors to boost their yield while waiting for dividend growth to lift their portfolio’s overall yield-on-cost. Last week we looked at Preferred Stock. This week we are looking at Bonds.

A bond is a debt security in which the issuer agrees to repay borrowed money with interest at fixed intervals. Bondholders have a creditor stake in the company. Technically, bonds do not pay dividends, but instead they pay interest. However, bonds are an important allocation for many income investors, thus I chose to include them in this series. There are certain things an informed investor needs to understand before purchasing bonds.

Interest rates play an integral part in determining the current value of a bond. Interest rates and the price of a bond are inversely related. The longer the time until a bond matures, the more susceptible its price is to changes in interest rates. Consider two bonds, one that has a maturity of 30 years and another with a 7 day maturity. If after both bonds are sold, interest rates go up one percent, the price of both bonds will decline since new investors expect to earn the prevailing interest rate. However, the interest rate decline will affect the price of the 30 year bond more than the 7 day bond, due to the longer period of “lost” earnings. It works the same in the other direction – if interest rates drop the bond holder will sell it at higher price which lowers the yield to the market rate.

In summary, longer-term investments have lower rate volatility at the expense of higher price volatility. Therefore, the term of the bond purchased should be dictated by your long-term investment goals. If your goal is capital preservation, short-term is the most appropriate investment. If an investor is willing to hold a bond until it matures and values lower rate volatility, then a longer-term investment will likely better meet this investor’s needs.

Like preferred stocks, many investors choose not to research and buy individual bonds. Instead, they have opted to make their bond investments in funds. Consider the following bond funds:

Vanguard Long-Term Bond ETF (BLV) – Yield: 5.16%
Vanguard Long-Term Bond ETF seeks to track the performance of a market-weighted bond index with a long-term dollar-weighted average maturity. It maintains a dollar-weighted average maturity consistent with that of the Index, which generally ranges between 15 and 30 years.
- Total Assets: $2.9 billion
- Expense Ratio: 0.14%
- Holdings: 40% US Corporate, 39% US Treasury, 8% Foreign Corp, 5% Foreign Govt, 8% Other
- Distributions: Monthly

Vanguard Intermediate-Term Bond ETF (BIV) – Yield 4.32%
The investment seeks to track the performance of a market-weighted bond index with an intermediate-term dollar-weighted average maturity.The fund maintains a dollar-weighted average maturity consistent with that of the index ranging between 5 and 10 years.
- Total Assets: $9.8 billion
- Expense Ratio: 0.14%
- Holdings: 45% US Treasury, 37% US Corporate, 9% Foreign Corp, 5% Foreign Govt, 9% Other
- Distributions: Monthly

Vanguard Short-Term Bond ETF (BSV) – Yield: 2.74%
The investment seeks to track the performance of a market-weighted bond index with a short-term dollar-weighted average maturity. The fund’s dollar-weighted average maturity is not expected to exceed 3 years
- Total Assets: $9.8 billion
- Expense Ratio: 0.14%
- Holdings: 52% US Treasury, 24% US Corporate, 14% US Agency, 8% Foreign Corp, 2% Other
- Distributions: Monthly

Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND) – Yield: 3.98%
The investment seeks to track the performance of a broad, market-weighted bond index. The fund maintains a dollar-weighted average maturity consistent with that of the index, ranging between 5 and 10 years.
- Total Assets: $68.8 billion
- Expense Ratio: 0.14%
- Holdings: 33% Mtg Pass-thru, 29% US Treasury, 19% US Corporate, 7% US Agency, 12% Other
- Distributions: Monthly

Invest Grade Corp Bond (LQD) – Yield: 5.44%
The investment seeks results that correspond generally to the price and yield performance, before fees and expenses, of the iBoxx $ Liquid Investment Grade index. The fund typically invests at least 90% of assets in the bonds of the underlying index, and at least 95% of assets in investment-grade corporate bonds.
- Total Assets: $12.2 billion
- Expense Ratio: 0.15%
- Holdings: 82% US Corporate, 18% Foreign Corp, 0% Other
- Distributions: Monthly

Emerging Mkts Sovereign Debt (PCY) – Yield: 6.44%
The investment seeks investment results that correspond generally to the price and yield (before fees and expensed) of an index called the DB Emerging Market USD Liquid Balanced index. The fund normally invests at least 80% of total assets in emerging markets U.S. dollar-denominated government bonds.
- Total Assets: $520.3 billion
- Expense Ratio: 0.50%
- Holdings: 80% Foreign Govt, 20% Other
- Distributions: Monthly

20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT) – Yield 3.95%
The investment seeks results that correspond generally to the price and yield performance, before fees and expenses, of the Barclays Capital U.S. 20+ Year Treasury Bond index. The fund generally invests at least 90% of assets in the bonds of the underlying index.
- Total Assets: $2.4 billion
- Expense Ratio: 0.15%
- Holdings: 100% US Treasury
- Distributions: Monthly

Some authors have minimized the importance of bonds in a portfolio primarily focused on dividend growth securities. You can ignore them, but as the past decade has shown it may be to your own peril.

Full Disclosure: Long BLV, BIV, LQD, PCY. See a list of all my income holdings here.

(Photo: Steve Woods)


5 Responses to “Increasing Dividend Yield Part IV: Bonds *”

  1. dizzy7 says:

    If you are interested in Vanguard bond index ETF’s which do not include treasury debt, two new ones are their VCIT (intermediate term) and VCLT (long term.) They are essentially the same as BIV and BLD except they hold only corporate bonds. Because treasuries aren’t included, the interest rates received are substantially higher.

  2. Bill66 says:

    The comments about long-term bonds are correct. If you hold, say, a 15- or 20-year bond to maturity, you should receive its face value.

    But to be clear, a similar situation does not exist with a long-term bond ETF or mutual fund. Simply put, such funds do not have a fixed maturity date. Because of that, there is no guarantee that you will be repaid all of your original investment capital on the date you elect to sell your holding in such a fund. If interest rates rise, there is a distinct possibility that you will not.

    Possibly this is less of an issue for a 45-year-old investor than for a 65-year-old investor. But even for a younger investor, this might be a less than opportune time to go long in terms of buying a fund, unless one is a nimble trader.

    All of which might explain why our host, Dividends Value, is long several of these funds but not long the longs.

    Many, if not all, of this blog’s readers likely understand all of this, but in the collegial spirit, I thought I’d point it out.

  3. Bill66 says:

    My error: Dividends Value is long BLV.

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