investing

4 Great Mutual Funds to Earn 3% to 4% in Investment-Grade Bonds

We've found low-cost funds that give you a wide range of these low-risk investments.

High-quality bonds form the base of a fixed-income portfolio. Issuers include major governments, government agencies and companies that are the strongest financially. The bonds have low credit risk; there's little chance that the issuers would be unable to pay interest or principal as promised.

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For most of the period from 2010 through mid 2016, long-term interest rates fell while the Fed kept its benchmark short-term rate near zero. With the Fed now hiking, the bellwether 10-year Treasury note yield has risen from 1.4% in mid 2016 to nearly 3% recently, lifting yields on other high-quality bonds.

The risks: A key determinant of long-term bond yields is the inflation rate, because inflation erodes the value of fixed-income yields. If investors begin to fear that inflation will rise, they're likely to demand higher yields on new bonds–depressing the value of existing bonds.

How to invest: Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND, $79, 3.0%) is a solid choice for a diversified bond holding, says Miriam Sjoblom, a bond-fund analyst at Morningstar. The portfolio tracks the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond index of high-quality bonds, which include Treasury, corporate and mortgage issues. The fund's annual management cost is a mere 0.05% of assets. Its duration is 6.1.

For investors who prefer actively managed funds, Dodge & Cox Income (DODIX, 3.0%) has a "thoughtful long-term approach to investing and an attractive price tag," says Morningstar analyst Sarah Bush. The management cost is 0.4%, compared with an average of 0.8% for similar funds, and the portfolio duration is 4.2. Another actively managed pick: DoubleLine Total Return Bond (DLTNX, 3.4%), a Kip 25 member. Most of the bonds in the portfolio are mortgage-backed securities, the specialty of DoubleLine founder Jeffrey Gundlach. The fund's duration is 3.8.Cullen Roche, head of advisory firm Orcam Financial Group, recommends a small stake in the longest-term U.S. Treasury bonds, using iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT, $118, 3.0%). Such long-term bonds carry high volatility risk (the ETF's duration is 17.5), but Roche views them as insurance against a geopolitical or global economic crisis. Long-term Treasuries have been the asset investors flock to in times of great fear. "There's no reason to think that has changed," he says.

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