How to Generate Income as Yields Fall

“Investing for income has never been so expensive,” according to a recent article in Barron’s that offers insights on how investors can find income amidst dropping yields.

“The collapse in yields means that massively more bucks are needed to generate the income to which American individual investors have become accustomed,” the article notes. It cites UBS data showing that 40 years ago, a $5 million portfolio of municipal bonds would have generated a tax-exempt $500,000 annually while today it would take a $30 million portfolio to generate the same income.

Equities are a bargain by comparison, the article notes, referencing analysis by Capital Economics’ John Higgins. According to Higgins, gauging whether equites are overvalued depends less on absolute yields and more on how far those yields have moved off their equilibrium. His estimates show that the equilibrium S&P earnings yield is 4% (based on forward earnings), below the current level of 5.4%, reflecting what Higgins describes as the “exceptionally loose monetary policy” since the last recession.

The article cites the energy sector as showing promise for those investors that “still want stocks that show them the money via dividends.”

For investors wanting to include bonds in their portfolios, the article cites a recent UBS client letter saying that “taxable municipals offer yields competitive with those of corporates, plus higher credit quality.”