Are High-Yield ETFs Worth a Look for Nervous Investors?

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Even after a nine-year bull market and with stock markets not too far off all-time highs, there is plenty for investors to worry about: increased volatility, rising interests rates, the effects of trade wars with China and others that are just beginning to be felt, and the fast-approaching midterm elections.

Exchange traded funds are often seen as a way to diversify and to moderate the risks of investing directly into stocks during times of uncertainty. But a quick look at some of the most popular high-yield ETFs doesn’t seem too encouraging on the surface. All seven of the following ETFs trade more than a million shares on an average day, have yields of at least 5% and are in the red for the year to date. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 is more than 4% higher than at the beginning of the year, and the Dow Jones industrial average is up more than 3%.

Alerian MLP ETF (NYSEARCA: AMLP): This investment seeks investment results that correspond generally to the price and yield performance of the Alerian MLP Infrastructure Index, which is comprised of energy infrastructure master limited partnerships that earn a majority of their cash flow from the transportation, storage and processing of energy commodities.

The non-diversified fund comes with a yield near 4.9%. Top holdings include Enterprise Products Partners and Plains All American Pipeline. Shares are down 4.6% year to date and closed Wednesday at $10.55 apiece.

Invesco Preferred ETF (NYSE: PGX): The investment seeks to track the investment results of the ICE BofAML Core Plus Fixed Rate Preferred Securities Index, which is a market capitalization-weighted index designed to reflect the total return performance of the fixed-rate U.S. dollar-denominated preferred securities market.

The non-diversified fund comes with a yield near 5.7%. Top holdings include Barclays Bank and Citigroup, and the shares are down 5.2% year to date to close most recently at $13.97.

iShares iBoxx U.S. Dollar High Yield Corp Bond ETF (NYSE: HYG): The investment seeks to track the investment results of the Markit iBoxx USD Liquid High-Yield Index, which is a rules-based index consisting of liquid, U.S. dollar-denominated, high-yield corporate bonds for sale in the United States.

The yield here is about 5.1%, and First Data and Sprint are among the top holdings. Shares were last seen trading at $85.21, which is about 2.4% lower than at the beginning of the year.

iShares US Preferred Stock ETF (NASDAQ: PFF): This investment seeks to track the investment results of the S&P U.S. Preferred Stock Index, which measures the performance of a select group of preferred stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ Global Select Market and other exchanges.

Top holdings include Becton, Dickinson and GMAC Capital Trust I, while the yield is near 5.6%. Its shares are down 4.9% year to date. The ETF’s most recent close was at $36.00 a share.

SPDR Bloomberg Barclays High Yield Bond ETF (NYSEARCA: JNK): The investment seeks to provide investment results that correspond generally to the price and yield performance of the Bloomberg Barclays High Yield Very Liquid Index, which is designed to measure the performance of publicly issued U.S. dollar denominated high-yield corporate bonds with above-average liquidity.

The non-diversified fund comes with a yield of around 5.4%. Here too, First Data and Sprint are among the top holdings. Shares are down 3.3% year to date, and they closed at $35.53 on Wednesday.

SPDR Bloomberg Barclays Short Term High Yield Bond ETF (NYSEARCA: SJNK): This investment seeks to provide investment results that correspond generally to the price and yield performance of the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. High-Yield 350mn Cash Pay 0-5 Year 2% Capped Index, which is designed to measure the performance of short-term publicly issued U.S. dollar-denominated high-yield corporate bonds.

The non-diversified fund sports a yield of about 5.4% and includes EMC, HCA and Tenet Healthcare among its top holdings. Shares are down 1.2% year to date and closed most recently at $27.28.

VanEck Vectors JPMorgan EM Local Currency Bond ETF (NYSE: EMLC): The investment seeks to replicate the price and yield performance of the J.P. Morgan GBI-EM Global Core Index, which is comprised of bonds issued by emerging market governments and denominated in the local currency of the issuer.

The yield of this non-diversified fund is about 6.5%, and top holdings include bonds from the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and others. Shares are down 13.7% or so since the beginning of the year to $16.55.