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Fixed income exchange-traded products have, broadly speaking, flourished in 2012. One byproduct of that trend has been soaring commentary on, and scrutiny of, high-yield bond funds.

For all the controversy surrounding junk bond ETFs, several realities remain. First, there are concerns about decreasing liquidity in the high-yield bond market and the impact that may have on ETF investors down the road.

Second, investors seem to be willing to look past the liquidity issue in search of yield and junk bond ETFs offer plenty of yield. Third, the high-yield bond ETF conversation is often dominated by two funds: The $15.1 billion iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond Fund (NYSE: HYG) and the $10.9 billion SPDR Barclays Capital High Yield Bond ETF (NYSE: JNK).

Indeed, it is possible for a high-yield bond ETF to toil in anonymity. Here are a few that are doing just that, but some might be worthy consideration.

PowerShares Senior Loan Portfolio (NYSE: BKLN) For those that did not think it was possible for an ETF to feature almost $603 million in assets under management and a trailing 12-month yield of nearly five percent to go unnoticed, meet the PowerShares Senior Loan Portfolio.

Now 17 months old, BKLN is the first ETF to offer exposure to senior loans, though it may be getting a rival at some point. BKLN does not come right out and say it is a junk bond fund, but 84 percent of its holdings are rated BB or B by Standard & Poor's and those are non-investment grade ratings.

Part of the allure of senior loans is that the products are less sensitive to rising interest rates. Nearly all of BKLN's holdings have maturities of one to five or five to ten years.

Market Vectors Emerging Markets High-Yield Bond ETF (NYSE: HYEM) One of the newest additions to the junk bond ETF lineup, HYEM is just 10 weeks old. Despite the ETF's rookie status, HYEM stands as a point in favor of considering new ETFs. The ETF is up about 3.2 percent since its debut. That is nice, but what is nicer for income investors is a monthly dividend and a 7.88 percent 30-day SEC yield.

There is a bull case for emerging markets bonds. The asset class, including U.S. dollar- and local currency-denominated sovereign and corporate issues, have produced returns averaging between 8.6 to 9.2 percent annually from mid-2007 to June 2012, buoyed by improved economic and credit fundamentals among both sovereign and corporate issuers, according to a statement recently issued by Market Vectors.

"The trends since 2007 are worth noting," said Market Vectors portfolio manager Fran Rodilosso. "Emerging markets have been tested and they have held up very well through the recent crisis. These returns were better than what we saw in U.S. high-yield2 and U.S. investment grade3 for the same period."

There is a cautionary tale, too. U.S. issues account for almost two-thirds of the global high-yield bond market, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch data. That means developed AND emerging markets split the remainder. In 2011, developing nations issued approximately $150 billion in high-yield, a number that implies this sub-sector of the high-yield universe is not yet flush with liquidity.

SPDR BofA Merrill Lynch Crossover Corporate Bond ETF (NYSE: XOVR) The SPDR BofA Merrill Lynch Crossover Corporate Bond ETF, another new kid on the bond fund block, is not a true junk bond ETF because 54.3 of the fund's holdings are rated Baa by Moody's, the agency's lowest investment-grade rating.

However, 45.3 percent of XOVR's holding fall into junk status. "Crossover" corporate debt generally means corporate debt rated at levels where the lower end of investment grade debt and the higher end of high yield debt meet, according to XOVR's fact sheet.

XOVR's 117 holdings have an average maturity of almost eight years and a modified adjusted duration of 5.64 years. The ETF has a 30-day SEC yield of 4.85 percent and has attracted almost $10.3 million in AUM less than two months on the market.

For more on junk bond ETFs, click here.

Posted-In: Long Ideas News Bonds Short Ideas Dividends Specialty ETFs New ETFs Emerging Market ETFs Best of Benzinga

 

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