If you’ve been putting cash into bonds because you want an investment that offers steady income, then you can’t be too pleased.
The yield on the benchmark US 10-Year Treasury note is painfully low at just 1.84%. That’s below the inflation rate of around 2.1%, but Treasuries are like roulette machines spitting out cash compared to bonds from many other countries.
Because of sluggish economies in Europe and Japan, negative-yielding debt now totals $11 trillion around the world. At one point last year, more than $17 trillion in bonds offered yields below zero.
In other words, you’d lose money from these bonds if you held them until they matured.
Look abroad in the bond market
That’s why some experts are urging investors to take on a bit more risk and buy stocks that offer high dividends. Companies in sectors like telecom services, utilities, real estate and consumer goods have benefited from this flight to income.
Since a lot of these stocks have already run up sharply as investors chase for yield, they might be too expensive now as a result, says Ron Temple, co-head of multi-asset at Lazard Asset Management.
“It’s a real conundrum. It’s a difficult situation for conservative, income-based investors,” Temple told CNN Business. “Don’t overpay for stocks with high dividend yields.”
Instead, Temple said that there might be better opportunities for investors to buy bonds of other countries that still offer decent yields. He pointed to emerging markets as an example.
The iShares J.P. Morgan USD Emerging Markets Bond and Morgan Stanley Emerging Markets Debt ETFs both yield more than 4.5%.
Good opportunities exist in higher-rated corporate bonds in Asia and other emerging markets as well, said David Norris, head of US credit for TwentyFour Asset Management. The key is trying not to chase the biggest yields, which are often attached to riskier companies.
“You need a diversified and balanced portfolio to mitigate risk. Look for securities that are higher up in credit quality,” Norris told CNN Business.
Lower yields might be safer bets
Still, stocks could be good options for skittish investors too, according to Kurt Spieler, chief investment officer of wealth management at First National Bank of Omaha.
Spieler said investors can find good dividend-paying opportunities in all sectors, including tech. He argues that you should target companies with dividend yields around 3% that can grow their payouts around 8% to 10% a year. That’s smarter than going after companies that just have super high yields.
For example, looking at the companies in the S&P 500, shares of HP, NetApp, Qualcomm and Corning all have yields near 3%.
Because the dividend yield is calculated by taking the annual dividend payment and dividing it by the stock price, companies with plunging stock prices tend to have higher yields. They may need to cut those dividends if they run into financial trouble.
Along those lines, struggling retailers Macy’s, L Brands, Kohl’s and Gap have among the highest yields in the S&P 500, ranging from 5.6% to 8.5%. Those yields might not be sustainable.
“One thing we would caution is that investors don’t stretch for yield,” Spieler said. “That can lead to unintended consequences and higher risks.”