Fixing Fixed Income

This article was written with Steve Cordasco, of Cordasco financial network. It's part of a series of articles developed under an agreement with to work with a variety of contributors and assist them in delivering actionable investment ideas each week.

Steve Cordasco and David Evanson, Summer, 2012

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Whenever I visit a big mutual fund or brokerage company, itzzs easy to spot who works on the fixed income (bonds) side of the house and who works on the equities (stocks) side of the house. To put it bluntly, the bond guys (and gals) are less emotional than their brethren working equities.

Perhaps this is as it should be. After all, the pricing of bonds logically follows changes in interest rates, coupled with an analysis of cashflow to service the debt. A company can either pay its debts or it canzzt. Stock jockeys on the other hand pair their fundamental analysis with squishy terms like “momentum,” and “sentiment” and “resistance levels.”

Because of this, investing in stocks is easier and more fun (even when you are wrong, stocks can still go up, and you are right!) than investing in bonds.

However, a company I introduced to my readers a few weeks ago, Motif Investing, is changing this. In June, the company launched about 50 intuitive indices (called motifs), that investors could buy cheaply and, adjust — or not — according to their own analysis.

Adjusting according to preference is a powerful notion. For example, who wouldnzzt want to fine tune their S&P 500 index holdings to bulk up on Apple(AAPL_) (up about 58% YTD) and pare Electronic Arts(EA_) (off about 33% YTD)?

Now the company has introduced fixed income, or bond motifs, that give investors the same intuitive, flexible and low cost solutions for the fixed income portion of their portfolios. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. After all, most portfolios consist of stocks, bonds and cash. Therefore, with the introduction of fixed income products, little Motif Investing is offering most investors a comprehensive low cost solution.

The fixed-income motifs are comprised of bond ETFs, and they offer the same targeted solutions coupled with the ability to adjust the holdings. For instance the AMT-Free Munis motif allows investors who are typically snagged by the Alternative Minimum Tax to sidestep the prehensile hand of the feds by avoiding bonds and ETFs with so-called private activity debt issuances that could generate income subject to the AMT.

The portfolio is arranged across durations from less than one year to more than 10, with three in between equally weighted at 20%. If you believe interest rates are going down or will stay the same then you might want to lengthen the duration/maturity of your bonds.

Investing is hard work. And investing in bonds and other fixed income investments is harder still. However, Motif Investing simplified the process and enables average investors to build bond portfolios with above-average intelligence.

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