The Latest Way to Boost Your Income

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One of the biggest challenges investors face today is getting enough income from their portfolios. Increasingly, many investors have gone to great lengths to find novel ways to get their investments to produce healthier payouts.

Now, one of the leaders in income investing has come out with new exchange-traded funds designed to give income-hungry investors more of what they want, using a different angle: international bonds. Do these new ETFs deserve a place in your portfolio, or are there better alternatives to get the income you need?

PIMCO to the rescue
Bill Gross and PIMCO have built their reputation on skillfully navigating the bond markets for better yield. With Gross on the record several times that rates on U.S. Treasury bonds are far too low, it's no surprise to see the ETF management company going abroad in search of better yields and return prospects. Already, his PIMCO Total Return Fund has gone abroad to find attractive bonds for its portfolio.

However, three new ETFs allow investors to pinpoint individual countries. Pimco Canada Bond Index and Pimco Germany Bond Index (NYS: BUND) came out earlier this week, while Pimco Australian Bond (NYS: AUD) started trading late last month.

Are they a good deal?
The ETFs are too new to list the particular bonds they own, so PIMCO hasn't published yields or return figures yet. But looking at the bond markets in each respective country, the three ETFs could well give you much different experiences.

In Germany, for instance, bond yields are even lower than what you can get on U.S. Treasuries. Therefore, betting on German bonds is more of a currency bet, hoping that the euro will appreciate against the dollar and therefore make euro-denominated bonds more valuable. In addition, though, some might argue that if the eurozone crumbles, Germany's fiscal situation might improve if it no longer has to deal with the weaker economies in southern Europe, thereby boosting its bonds.

Australia, on the other hand, is in a much different situation. Its bonds yield far more than U.S. Treasuries, with even one-year bonds paying more than 3.5%. Moreover, the Australian government faces the opposite problem from most economies, as its central bank just recently started cutting interest rates in an attempt to balance concerns about an overheating commodity-based economy with slowing growth in China, one of its biggest export markets. Certainly, the recent hit to mining giantBHP Billiton (NYS: BHP) appears hinged on a collapse in Chinese demand for minerals.

Canada, meanwhile, falls in somewhere in between the other two economies. On one hand, with links to the U.S., Canada's yield curve looks a lot like its southern neighbor's. But like Australia, Canada owes a huge part of its economy to natural resources, with companies like Suncor Energy (NYS: SU) , Teck Resources (NYS: TCK) , and Canadian Natural Resources (NYS: CNQ) also taking advantage of demand from China and other growing world markets.

The right move
Geographical diversification makes just as much sense for the fixed-income side of your portfolio as it does for your stock investments. Getting some international exposure in bonds could help you avoid a fixed-income meltdown -- especially if the dollar falls and Treasury yields start to rise precipitously.

The question, though, is whether country-specific funds are the best play. With broader-focused funds like iShares JPMorgan USD Emerging Markets Bond (NYS: EMB) and SPDR Barclays International Treasury Bond (NYS: BWX) covering a wide swath of the global bond market, more closely tailored exposure may not give you as much diversification as you'd really like.

On the other hand, what's increasingly clear is that while stock markets around the world have gotten increasingly correlated, bond markets aren't. That makes cherry-picking the most promising bond markets more important. If you want to follow that trend, then PIMCO's single-country bond funds may give you exactly the edge you're looking for.

Bond ETFs aren't the only way to go in this environment. Check out the Motley Fool's free special report with three ETFs that are poised to jump. Just click on the link and get started today.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Dan Caplinger sends his money around the world to work harder for him. You can follow him on Twitter here. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy speaks every language you'd ever want to know.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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