Bait and Switch: Time to Exit (Most) Bonds

by: Thomas Smicklas

Every investment has a season. For bonds, the season is "Fall". The vast majority of bond holders of almost all sorts have seen their values head south. What to do? Odds are, one should not take the bait of doubling down on bond holdings, but should rotate to a portfolio containing a hefty percentage of dividend-paying common stocks that hold hope of maintaining absolute value plus a capital gain.

I believe that being flexible is superior than being locked into one strict index ETF as the world economy moans, groans and lurches forward. Asia should be overweight, Latin America should be underweight as history tells us that periodic confiscatory politics of our southern neighbors have often times destroyed the best-laid Latin American investment scheme. Europe as a stand-alone is also off limits, although investors know that there is a bleed-through of many Asian and North American companies with Euroland. Within these arbitrary (some would argue, capricious) parameters, here are a few ETF investment ideas to pursue:

POWERSHARES DIVIDEND ACHIEVERS PORTFOLIO ETF (NASDAQ:PFM): This $188m market cap fund corresponds to the price and yield of the Broad Dividend Achievers Index. A minimum of 80% of the fund's holdings have raised annual dividend payments for ten or more consecutive years. Trading at $13.98/share PFM has a 3.75% yield. It features a 4-Star Morningstar Rating.

GUGGENHEIM MULTI-ASSET INCOME ETF (NYSE:CVY): This $356m market cap fund corresponds to the Zacks Multi-Asset Income Index, which includes U.S. stocks, ADRs, REITs, MLPs, CEFs and traditional preferred stocks, all paying dividends. Trading at $19.91/share,CVY has a yield of 4.50%. It features a 4-Star Morningstar Rating.

VANGUARD DIVIDEND APPRECIATION INDEX ETF (NYSEARCA:VIG): This $4.4b market cap fund corresponds to the Mergent Dividend Achievers Select Index.Trading at $52.80/share, VIG has a yield of 2.02% The index measures the investment return of common stocks of companies that have a record of increasing dividends over time. It features a 5-Star Morningstar Rating.

POWERSHARES DYNAMIC SMALL CAP VALUE PORTFOLIO ETF (PWY): This small $65m market cap fund corresponds to the Small Cap Value Intellidex. Trading at $15.08/share, PWY fund has a yield of 3.45% This index is comprised of 100 U.S. small-cap value stocks selected primarily on the basis of their capital appreciation potential as identified by the AMEX (the Intellidex provider). Morningstar has it assigned only a 2-Star Rating, however, I believe this index hits a sweet spot as we head into 2011.

WISDOMTREE PACIFIC EX-JAPAN EQUITY INCOME ETF (DNH). This small $77m market cap fund self-servingly corresponds to the Wisdom Tree Equity Income Index. Trading at $59.01/share, DNH has a yield of 6.51%.Morningstar has it assigned a 4-Star Rating. Finding a high yielding far eastern fund is not common. The yield should mitigate serious downside risk compared too other funds focusing on that region.

VANGUARD HIGH DIVIDEND YIELD INDEX ETF (NYSEARCA:VYM): This $1.0b market cap fund tracks the performance of the FTSE/High Dividend Yield Index. Trading at $42.32/share, the fund has a yield of 2.61%. Morningstar has it assigned a 4-Star Rating.

WISDOMTREE EMERGING MARKETS SMALL CAP DIVIDEND ETF (NYSEARCA:DGS): This $879m fund tracks WisdomTree's own Emerging Markets Small Cap Dividend Index. Trading at $52.91/share, the fund has a yield of 3.42%. Morningstar has it assigned a 5-Star Rating.

The investor is encouraged to examine the moving parts of each fund (and any fund, for that matter) so there is not unintentional overlap of sectors or individual holdings. I have deliberately avoided TIP funds. I prefer to buy TIPS directly from the Treasury to avoid dilution and unnecessary expenses. Further, investors can find some preferred stocks with better-than-treasury inflation features. Metropolitan's MetpA and the Prudential' PFK come to mind.

Even though the Fed speaks of holding interest rates close to zero, the money printing presses here and elsewhere in the world are minting 24/7. Inflation is the easiest way for a government to monetize extreme debt to (in their mind) a resolvable level. This bodes disaster for bond holders, but is a mild blessing for holders of companies who can raise prices (and dividends). For investors diversified with dividend stocks in strong economic regions and sectors, opportunities to be successful are self-evident. Despite higher expenses,appropriate traditional mutual funds should also be on your shopping list to accommodate this portfolio scenario.