gain. As a result, the discount bond holder would have a significantly higher after-tax return.

There are a couple of ways to hold fixed income in a non-registered account while avoiding premium bonds. One is to use GICs instead of bond funds: GICs always trade at par, so they have lower interest payments and never suffer capital losses. Another is to use strip bonds, which always trade at a discount to par value. Last year saw the launch of the First Asset DEX 1-5 Year Laddered Government Strip Bond Index ETF (BXF), inspired by Justin Bender’s search for a tax-efficient fixed-income ETF. Now BMO has entered the arena with the first ETF designed to  give taxable investors exposure to the broad Canadian bond market, but with a portfolio that consists only of tax-friendly discount bonds.

Zigging along with ZAG

The new ETF will have characteristics very similar to the BMO AGGREGATE BOND INDEX ETF(TSE:ZAG), which could be a core bond holding in any balanced portfolio. The two funds will be very similar in average term to maturity, duration, credit quality, yield to maturity and management fee (0.20%). The key difference, however, will be that ZDB’s average coupon will be lower that its yield to maturity, resulting in much greater tax-efficiency:

According to BMO, the new fund will hold about 50 issues when it launches, and as the ETF gathers assets it will build to more than 70 bonds. By comparison, traditional broad-based bond index funds include hundreds of holdings, but remember, there just aren’t that many discount bonds available in the marketplace. A portfolio of 50 to 70 is more than enough to provide adequate diversification.

More potential tax savings

BMO’s latest crop of new ETFs also includes at least on other notable fund. At first glance theBMO MSCI EAFE Index ETF (ZEA) seems late to the party: both iShares and Vanguard have already launched international equity ETFs without currency hedging. However, BMO’s is the only one that holds the underlying stocks directly, rather than holding a US-listed ETF. This structure allows Canadian investors to avoid one layer of foreign withholding taxes, making the BMO fund potentially less costly in both registered and taxable accounts.

Rather than explaining this idea in full here, I’ll just announce that Justin and I recently completed a new white paper that includes the estimated cost (including both MER and foreign withholding taxes) of many popular ETFs in all account types. The paper will finally allow investors to make informed decisions about this confusing topic. Look for it next week.

By: Dan Bortolotti

This Article was brought to you Courtesy of the “Canadian Couch Potato.”

Canadian Couch Potato is designed for Canadians who want to learn more about investing using index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). In 2011, it was selected by The Globe and Mail as the best investing blog in Canada. The blog’s author is financial journalist Dan Bortolotti, author of The MoneySense Guide to the Perfect Portfolio, a complete guide to index investing in Canada.

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