I have never been a particularly big fan of convertible bonds, but from time to time, these investments can make a good deal of sense.
Launched four months ago (and still qualifying as “new” according to my warped ETF chronograph), the SPDR Barclays Capital Convertible Bond ETF (CWB) is designed to track the price and yield performance of the Barclays Capital U.S. Convertible Bond >$500MM Index.
The table to the right shows the ETFs top holdings as of yesterday’s close, which include a top three of Bank of America (BAC), Freeport-McMoRan (FCX) and Amgen (AMGN). This same snapshot of current top ten holdings can be found here.
Since the launch of CWB on April 16th, the bull market performance of this ETF has matched the SPX almost step for step, with lower volatility. In the chart below, CWB is represented by the red line, the SPX is in blue, and the iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (LQD) is shown in green. This chart is an almost perfect illustration of why convertible bond ETFs (or closed-end fund or mutual fund) can be a powerful addition to one’s portfolio. At its best, in bull markets, convertibles have an upside comparable to stocks, with less downside risk. At their worst, which is generally in non-trending markets or bearish markets, the lower yield and expense of owning options that do not appreciate makes convertibles inferior to standard bonds.
Of course, options savvy investors will probably wish to buy their own bond ETF and cherry pick their favorite options plays, but for those who wish to forego a customized approach and stick with an off-the-shelf product, CWB is – for the moment at least – the only ETF which is up to the task.