VAB ETF Review 2022: Vanguard Canadian Aggregate Bond Index ETF Explained

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by Enoch Omololu

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Exchange-Traded Funds or ETFs are a great way for Canadian investors to diversify their portfolio holdings while saving on transaction fees.

ETFs are a much cheaper alternative to traditional mutual funds. The MER or Management Expense Ratios for ETFs can be as low as 0.05%.

Over the long term, a lower MER can result in higher returns on your investment.

ETFs are available at most brokerages across Canada. Discount brokerages like Wealthsimple and Questrade offer free ETF investments so you save even more on trading fees.

This review of the Vanguard Canadian Aggregate Bond Index ETF (VAB) will cover its holdings, performance, fees, pros and cons, and how Canadian investors can purchase it.

What is VAB?

VAB (Vanguard Canadian Aggregate Bond Index ETF) is a Vanguard Canada ETF that was established in November of 2011. It trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The ETF is designed to track the broader performance of the Bloomberg Global Aggregate Canadian Float Adjusted Bond Index.

Investors who are seeking lower risk and diversification of their portfolio can consider adding a bond ETF like VAB.

VAB is a bond ETF, which means it does not hold any stocks. It is primarily invested in North American bonds, with a 40.8% allocation to Canadian Provincial and Municipal bonds.

As with most bonds, investors should not expect significant gains. Rather VAB can be used as a low-risk investment that returns a monthly distribution.

Here are some key facts for VAB as of April 2022:

  • Inception date: November 30, 2011
  • Number of bonds: 1,131
  • Management fee: 0.08%
  • MER: 0.09%
  • Assets under management: $3.35 billion
  • 12-month trailing yield: 2.67%
  • Distribution yield: 2.97%
  • Distribution frequency: Monthly
  • Eligible accounts: RRSP, TFSA, RRIF, TFSA, DPSP, RDSP
  • Currency: CAD
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VAB Holdings

VAB is an all-bond portfolio, which means it is not a strictly growth-oriented fund. It is a low volatility ETF with steady, monthly distribution payments.

Lower volatility ETFs are excellent for diversifying your equities portfolio. Bonds remain relatively even throughout market ups and downs.

While you can see all of the different stocks in an all-stock ETF, bond ETFs are built differently.

Here is the geographical diversification of VAB’s bond holdings.

Geographical RegionAllocation
North America97.80%
Other1.10%
Europe0.90%
Pacific0.20%

And here is the distribution by credit quality for VAB:

Credit RatingAllocation
AAA35.4%
AA42.4%
A14.0%
BBB8.2%
NR0.0%

For bonds, the credit rating refers to the creditworthiness of the bond. It is a measure of how likely the debt will be repaid. Higher credit ratings equate to more stable and safer investments.

And here is the distribution by credit issuer for VAB:

Credit IssuerAllocation
Provincials/Municipals40.8%
Treasury/Federal22.9%
Financial Institutions12.0%
Agencies10.7%
Industrials10.1%
Utilities2.5%
Supranational1.1%
Cash0.0%
Sovereign0.0%

Here is the distribution by credit maturity for VAB:

MaturityAllocation
Over 25 years14.3%
20-25 years7.0%
15-20 years6.4%
10-15 years4.8%
5-10 years28.4%
1-5 years39.2%
Under 1 year0.0%

And finally, here are the top bond holdings in VAB:

Holding NameMaturity DateAllocation
Canadian Government BondDecember 1, 20511.72%
Canadian Government BondJune 1, 20311.63%
Canadian Government BondDecember 1, 20311.46%
Canadian Government BondJune 1, 20301.39%
Canadian Government BondFebruary 1, 20241.21%
Canadian Government BondDecember 1, 20301.05%
Canadian Government BondAugust 1, 20231.00%
Canadian Government BondMarch 1, 20260.93%
Province of Ontario CanadaJune 2, 20450.92%
Canada Housing Trust No 1June 15, 20240.90%
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VAB Returns and Performance

As mentioned, VAB is a bond ETF so its long-term performance growth will not be as much as most all-stock portfolios.

Since inception, the market price and NAV have performed as follows:

YearNAVMarket Price (CAD)
20123.00%2.93%
2013-1.82%-1.88%
20148.79%8.97%
20153.48%3.57%
20161.34%1.25%
20172.24%2.27%
20181.34%1.16%
20196.58%6.71%
20208.55%8.60%
2021-2.72%-2.85%

Since its inception, VAB has had an annual average return of 2.39% and a cumulative return of 27.59% to investors.

It is important to note that as with any investment, past performance is not indicative of future returns.

VAB ETF Fees

VAB has very reasonable fees as it is a passively managed portfolio that holds assets with long-term expiry dates.

The management fee for VAB is 0.08% and the MER is 0.09%. This puts VAB among some of the lowest-priced ETFs on the market.

Pros and Cons of Vanguard VAB

VAB is a great way for Canadian investors to add some stability to their portfolios.

It is not a great source of long-term capital growth, but monthly distributions are the trademark of bond investments.

The low fees for VAB mean you will see more of your long-term returns as gains.

Bond ETFs should not be looked at as growth investments. As you can see from VAB’s performance, it lags the broader equity markets.

Some investors might not enjoy the slow growth of investing in bond ETFs like VAB.

VAB vs. ZAG

ZAG is the BMO Aggregate Bond Index ETF and was established in 2010. It also trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

It has a management fee of 0.08% and an MER of 0.09%, which is the same as VAB.

ZAG holds a total of 1,433 bonds and pays an annualized monthly distribution yield of 3.38%.

Here are the top BMO ETFs in Canada.

VAB vs. VSB

VSB is the Vanguard Canada Short-Term Bond Index ETF and was established in 2011 on the same date as VAB. It also trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange in Canadian dollars.

VSB has a management fee of 0.10% and MER of 0.11%, which makes it slightly more expensive than VAB.

VSB holds a total of 474 bonds and pays an annualized monthly distribution yield of 2.40%.

VAB vs. XBB

XBB is the iShares Core Canadian Universe Bond Index ETF and was established in November of 2000. It also trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

XBB has a management fee of 0.09% and an MER of 0.10%, as well as a risk rating of low.

It holds a total of 1,453 bonds and pays an annualized monthly distribution yield of 2.80%.

How To Buy the Vanguard VAB ETF in Canada

You can easily purchase VAB on any brokerage including discount brokerages like Questrade and Wealthsimple Trade.

Questrade

Questrade offers Canadian investors the ability to trade in all of the standard financial assets including stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and bonds.

ETF purchases are free on Questrade, but selling your ETF investments comes with a fee of $4.95 per trade.

Questrade has a highly rated platform that can be used on both desktop and mobile devices.

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Wealthsimple Trade is a popular investing platform amongst younger Canadians and is one of the best online stock brokerage platforms in the country.

It offers no-commission ETF trading for both buy and sell orders, as well as no trading commissions on stocks as well.

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Is VAB a Good Buy?

Bond ETFs aren’t for every investor. Some might find the growth too slow, even with the monthly distributions.

With that being said, VAB is a solid addition to any diversified portfolio. Bonds add stability and steady distributions, even while the equity markets are experiencing volatility.

Canadian investors who are looking for an inexpensive way of adding bonds to their holdings should consider VAB as a solid choice.

VAB ETF Review FAQs

Is VAB a good investment?

VAB is a fine investment for Canadian investors looking for exposure to the Canadian bond market. The fund is designed for moderate capital growth and has an attractively low MER.

Does VAB pay dividends?

Yes, although for the bond market they are referred to as distributions. VAB pays a monthly distribution with an annualized monthly yield of 2.97%.

How do I buy bond ETFs in Canada?

Bond ETFs can be bought on any brokerage platform in Canada. For Canadian investors who wish to save on trading fees, discount brokerages like Wealthsimple Trade and Questrade are ideal.

Are bond ETFs safe?

Yes, bond ETFs are actually generally safer than all-stock ETFs. The bond market sees less volatility, but this also results in less long-term growth.

Related:

Vanguard Canadian Aggregate Bond Index ETF Review
4.5

Summary

Vanguard Canadian Aggregate Bond Index ETF is one of the best bond ETFs in Canada. This VAB ETF review covers its holdings, returns, fees, how to buy in Canada and how it compares to ZAG, VSB, and XBB.

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Author

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Enoch Omololu

Enoch Omololu is a personal finance expert and a veterinarian. He has a master’s degree in Finance and Investment Management from the University of Aberdeen Business School (Scotland) and has completed several courses and certificates in finance, including the Canadian Securities Course. He also has an MSc. in Agricultural Economics from the University of Manitoba and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Ibadan. Enoch has a passion for helping others win with their personal finances and has been writing about money matters for over a decade. He has been featured or quoted in The Globe and Mail, Winnipeg Free Press, Wealthsimple, Financial Post, Toronto Star, CTV News, Canadian Securities Exchange, Credit Canada, National Post, CIBC, and many other personal finance publications.

His top investment tools include Wealthsimple and Questrade. He earns cash back on purchases using KOHO, monitors his credit score for free using Borrowell, and earns interest on savings through EQ Bank.

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