Many people are good at saving up money for retirement. They manage expenses and build up their nest eggs steadily. But when it comes time to begin drawing income from an investment portfolio, they might feel overwhelmed with so many choices.
Some income-seeking investors might want to dig deeply into individual bonds or dividend stocks. But others will want to keep things simple. One of the easiest ways to begin switching to an income focus is to use exchange-traded funds. Below are examples of income-oriented exchange-traded funds (ETFs) with related definitions further down.
First, the inverse relationship
Before looking at income-producing ETFs, there is one concept we will have to get out of the way — the relationship between interest rates and bond prices.
Stocks represent ownership units in companies. Bonds are debt instruments. A government, company or other entity borrows money from investors and issues bonds that mature on a certain date, when the issuer redeems them for the face amount. Most bonds issued in the U.S. have fixed interest rates and pay interest every six months.
Investors can sell their bonds to other investors at any time. But if interest rates in the market have changed, the market value of the bonds will move in the opposite direction. Last year, when interest rates rose, the value of bonds declined, so that their yields would match the interest rates of newly issued bonds of the same credit quality.
It was difficult to watch bond values decline last year, but investors who didn’t sell their bonds continued to receive their interest. The same could be said for stocks. The benchmark S&P 500
fell 19.4% during 2022, with 72% of its stocks declining. But few companies cut dividends, just as few companies defaulted on their bond payments.
One retired couple that I know saw their income-oriented brokerage account value decline by about 20% last year, but their investment income increased — not only did the dividend income continue to flow, they were able to invest a bit more because their income exceeded their expenses. They “bought more income.”
The longer the maturity of a bond, the greater its price volatility. Depending on the economic environment, you might find that a shorter-term bond portfolio offers a “sweet spot” factoring in price volatility and income.
And here’s a silver lining — if you are thinking of switching your portfolio to an income orientation now, the decline in bond prices means yields are much more attractive than they were a year ago. The same can be said for many stocks’ dividend yields.
What lies ahead for interest rates? With the Federal Reserve continuing its efforts to fight inflation, interest rates may continue to rise through 2023. This can put more pressure on bond and stock prices.
Ken Roberts, an investment adviser with Four Star Wealth Management in Reno, Nev., emphasizes the “downside protection” provided by dividend income in his discussions with clients.
“Diversification is the best risk-management tool there is,” he said during an interview. He also advised novice investors — even those seeking income rather than growth — to consider total returns, which combine the income and price appreciation over the long term.
An ETF that holds bonds is designed to provide income in a steady stream. Some pay dividends quarterly and some pay monthly. An ETF that holds dividend-paying stocks is also an income vehicle; it may pay dividends that are lower than bond-fund payouts and it will also take greater risk of stock-market price fluctuation. But investors taking this approach are hoping for higher total returns over the long term as the stock market rises.
“With an ETF, your funds are diversified. And when the market goes through periods of volatility, you continue to enjoy the income, even if your principal balance declines temporarily,” Roberts said.
If you sell your investments into a declining market, you know you will lose money — that is, you will sell for less than your investments were worth previously. If you are enjoying a stream of income from your portfolio, it might be easier for you to wait through a down market. If we look back over the past 20 calendar years — arbitrary periods — the S&P 500 increased during 15 of those years. But its average annual price increase was 9.1% and its average annual total return, with dividends reinvested, was 9.8%, according to FactSet.
In any given year, there can be tremendous price swings. For example, during 2020, the early phase of the Covid-19 pandemic pushed the S&P 500 down 31% through March 23, but the index ended the year with a 16% gain.
Two ETFs with broad approaches to dividend stocks
Invesco Head of Factor and Core Strategies Nick Kalivas believes investors should “explore higher-yielding stocks as a way to generate income and hedge against inflation.”
He cautioned during an interview that selecting a stock based only on a high dividend yield could place an investor in “a dividend trap.” That is, a high yield might indicate that professional investors in the stock market believe a company might be forced to cut its dividend. The stock price has probably already declined, to send the dividend yield down further. And if the company cuts the dividend, the shares will probably fall even further.
Here are two ways Invesco filters broad groups of stocks to those with higher yields and some degree of safety:
The Invesco S&P 500 High Dividend Low Volatility ETF
holds shares of 50 companies with high dividend yields that have also shown low price volatility over the previous 12 months. The portfolio is weighted toward the highest-yielding stocks that meet the criteria, with limits on exposure to individual stocks or sectors. It is reconstituted twice a year in January and July. Its 30-day SEC yield is 4.92%.
The Invesco High Yield Equity Dividend Achievers ETF
follows a different screening approach for quality. It begins with the components of the Nasdaq Composite Index
then narrows the list to 50 companies that have raised dividend payouts for at least 10 consecutive years, whose stocks have the highest dividend yields. It excludes real-estate investment trusts and is weighted toward higher-yielding stocks meeting the criteria. Its 30-day yield is 4.08%.
The 30-day yields give you an idea of how much income to expect. Both of these ETFs pay monthly. Now see how they performed in 2002, compared with the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, all with dividends reinvested:
8 more ETFs for income (and some for growth too)
A mutual fund is a pooling of many investors’ money to pursue a particular goal or set of goals. You can buy or sell shares of most mutual funds once a day, at the market close. An ETF can be bought or sold at any time during stock-market trading hours. ETFs can have lower expenses than mutual funds, especially ETFs that are passively managed to track indexes.
You should learn about the expenses before making a purchase. If you are working with an investment adviser, ask about fees — depending on the relationship between the adviser and a fund manager, you might get a discount on combined fees. You should also discuss volatility risk with your adviser, to establish a comfort level and to try to match your income investment choices to your risk tolerance.
Here are eight more ETFs designed to provide income or a combination of income and growth:
|Company||Ticker||30-day SEC yield||Concentration||2022 total return|
|iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF||
||4.98%||Corporate bonds with investment-grade ratings.||-17.9%|
|iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF||
||7.96%||Corporate bonds with lower credit ratings.||-11.0%|
|iShares 0-5 Year High Yield Corporate Bond ETF||
||8.02%||Similar to HYG but with shorter maturities for lower price volatility.||-4.7%|
|SPDR Nuveen Municipal Bond ETF||
||2.94%||Investment-grade municipal bonds for income exempt from federal taxes.||-8.6%|
|GraniteShares HIPS US High Income ETF||
||9.08%||An aggressive equity income approach that includes REITs, business development companies and pipeline partnerships.||-13.5%|
|JPMorgan Equity Premium Income ETF||
||11.77%||A covered-call strategy with equity-linked notes for extra income.||-3.5%|
|Amplify CWP Enhanced Dividend Income ETF||
||1.82%||Bue chip dividend stocks with some covered-call writing to enhance income.||-1.5%|
|First Trust Institutional Preferred Securities & Income ETF||
||5.62%||Preferred stocks, mainly in the financial sector||-8.2%|
|Sources: Issuer websites (for 30-day yields), FactSet|
Click the tickers for more about each ETF.
Read: Tomi Kilgore’s detailed guide to the wealth of information available for free on the MarketWatch quote page.
The following definitions can help you gain a better understanding of how the ETFs listed above work:
30-day SEC yield — A standardized calculation that factors in a fund’s income and expenses. For most funds, this yield gives a good indication of how much income a new investor can be expected to receive on an annualized basis. But the 30-day yields don’t always tell the whole story. For example, a covered-call ETF with a low 30-day yield may be making regular dividend distributions (quarterly or monthly) that are considerably higher, since the 30-day yield can exclude covered-call option income. See the issuer’s website for more information about any ETF that may be of interest.
Taxable-equivalent yield — A taxable yield that would compare with interest earned from municipal bonds that are exempt from federal income taxes. Leaving state or local income taxes aside, you can calculate the taxable-equivalent yield by dividing your tax exempt yield by 1 less your highest graduated federal income tax bracket.
Bond ratings — Grades for credit risk, as determined by ratings agencies. Bonds are generally considered Investment-grade if they are rated BBB- or higher by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, and Baa3 or higher by Moody’s. Fidelity breaks down the credit agencies’ ratings hierarchy. Bonds with below-investment-grade ratings have higher risk of default and higher interest rates than investment-grade bonds. They are known as high-yield or “junk” bonds.
Call option — A contract that allows an investor to buy a security at a particular price (called the strike price) until the option expires. A put option is the opposite, allowing the purchaser to sell a security at a specified price until the option expires.
Covered call option — A call option an investor writes when they already own a security. The strategy is used by stock investors to increase income and provide some downside protection.
Preferred stock — A stock issued with a stated dividend yield. This type of stock has preference in the event a company is liquidated. Unlike common shareholders, preferred shareholders don’t have voting rights.
These articles dig deeper into the types of securities mentioned above and related definitions:
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