Some multi-asset ETFs focus more sharply on income than others. The Guggenheim Multi-Asset Income ETF, the second-biggest multi-asset ETF, with $838 million in assets, is spread among 149 securities that include exposure to preferred stocks, MLPs and closed-end funds. It has a 6.18 percent yield. It has a net expense ratio of 84 basis points.
Multi-asset ETFS can pump up yields, but holdings such as MLPs and mortgage REITs are more risky than typical yield instruments, said Mitch Tuchman, a money manager at Rebalance IRA. But he said the lack of asset-allocation knowledge among investors makes the multi-asset ETFs worth considering.
Fabian said higher yields doesn't just mean higher risk but greater volatility. Holding lots of bonds also means that a fund may underperform in a bull market, Fabian added. He advises investors to build a portfolio beyond just one ETF—even one multi-asset fund.
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The Guggenheim Multi-Asset Income ETF, for example, has 36 percent of its holdings in financials and 22 percent in energy. The First Trust Multi-Asset Diversified Income Fund has its portfolio split into five buckets of roughly 20 percent each: high-yield corporate issues, MLPs, REITS, dividend-paying equities and preferred securities.
Britt agreed that there is plenty of risk in these ETFs and still less diversification versus a typical equity portfolio, but that's typically going to be the case when the primary focus is yield. He summed it up this way: "Is this too risky for near-term folks who need a steady income stream and capital protection? Maybe, but show me the alternative that provides that right now."
Most of the multi-asset ETFs are relatively new, so they don't have long performance histories, said Ron Delegge, founder of ETFguide. However, DeLegge agreed that since a portfolio can't be fully diversified without owing real estate and commodities, these ETFs raise awareness about a key asset-allocation issue.
As multi-asset ETFs keep gaining traction, understanding what you're buying will become even more important, Blanchett said. Some multi-asset ETFs, for example, have fewer than $100 million in assets and may not be as liquid as bigger ones. Others may own aggressive holdings that don't fit more conservative income needs near retirement.
"Spend some time looking," Blanchett said. "And don't just look at the highest performers."
"These products are far from homogeneous," Britt said.