Topic: ETFs

Two low-fee Canadian bond ETFs a good way to hold bonds today

Canadian bond ETFs

Two Canadian Bond ETFs offering low fees and high-quality holdings

Spurred by the dramatic impact of COVID-19 on the economy, the Bank of Canada has now cut its benchmark interest rate to 0.25% from 1.25%. Whether it continues to hold that rate steady, or cut it further, depends on the country’s economic growth and unemployment levels.


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Meanwhile, even for our conservative investors, we caution against investing in bonds. Today’s low interest rates make bonds unattractive, and an interest rate rise would push down their future value. But, if you need stable income and want to hold bonds, these two funds offer lower fees and high-quality holdings. Each is a buy.

For a recent article on other Canadian ETFs we recommend, read Most of Canada’s best stocks are in these two ETFs. And for our overall view on the best way to profit in the expanding field of exchange-traded funds, read When you invest in ETFs, keep it simple.

ISHARES CORE CANADIAN SHORT-TERM BOND INDEX ETF (Toronto symbol XSB; buy or sell through brokers) mirrors the FTSE TMX Canada Short-Term Bond Index. You pay a low MER of just 0.10%.

That FTSE index tracks investment-grade government and corporate bonds with one- to five-year terms. The ETF holds 478 bonds; the average term to maturity is 2.85 years.

The bonds are 67.6% government and 32.4% corporate. Issuers of the corporate bonds include TD Bank, Hydro One, Intact Financial, Hydro Quebec, Bank of Nova Scotia, Enbridge, CP Rail and other high-quality companies.

The fund offers investors a high 2.4% yield, which reflects the number of its bonds paying above-market interest rates. As a result, they trade above their face value, although when they mature, holders only get that face value. It means the ETF’s portfolio will incur predictable capital losses, which could partially offset your high yield.

When looking for the long-term return of this fund, you should study its yield to maturity. That ratio weighs the series of capital losses or gains it will experience as its bonds mature. Here the yield to maturity is 1.51%. So for this ETF, that’s effectively the yield you will get. Note, it’s less than the current 2.4% interest yield, but still higher than the 0.44% you’d earn by investing in, say, a one-year T-bill.

If you want to invest in a bond fund, the iShares Core Canadian Short-Term Bond Index ETF is a buy.

ISHARES CORE CANADIAN UNIVERSE BOND INDEX ETF (Toronto symbol XBB; buy or sell through brokers) mirrors the FTSE Canada Universe Bond Index. The portfolio’s 1,315 bonds have an average term to maturity of 10.61 years. You pay a low 0.10% MER. The bonds in the Canadian Universe Bond Index are 73.6% government and 26.4% corporate. Its bond issuers are similar to those of the Short-Term Bond Index Fund.

This ETF yields 2.8%, versus the Short-Term Fund’s 2.4%. Its yield to maturity is 1.98%47 basis points above the Short-Term Fund’s. That reflects the added volatility this ETF exposes you to (long-term bonds move up and down more on interest rate changes than short-term bonds).

The iShares Core Canadian Universe Bond Index ETF is a buy for investors prepared to accept that risk.

How interested are you in Canadian bond ETFs given current interest rates and the outlook?

This article was originally published in 2013 and is regularly updated.

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