To get 6% in a world where safe investments pay 1% or less requires accepting significant risk. Although a few corporate and foreign bonds pay 6% or better, many of today’s best bets for high yield trade on exchanges like stocks, putting you in the often gut-churning position of watching their share prices whip around like a roller coaster. They include master limited partnerships, mortgage-owning real estate investment trusts and business development companies (see our glossary for explanations of how they work).
Becca Followill, head of stock research at U.S. Capital Advisors, a Houston investment firm, thinks MLPs are a great idea for superior income. Her favorite is Targa Resources Partners (NGLS, $46, 6.0%), a Houston-based operation that has a finger in every aspect of the production, storage and sale of natural gas. Followill expects its distribution rate to rise by an average of 11% annually over the next several years.
Morningstar’s Pikelny likes four closed-end funds offered by BlackRock. All invest in junk bonds and take on a moderate amount of debt to boost their payouts. The funds have many of the same holdings and similar yields, so Pikelny considers them virtually interchangeable: BlackRock Corporate High Yield (COY, $8, 7.6%); BlackRock Corporate High Yield III (CYE, $8, 7.9%); BlackRock Corporate High Yield V (HYV, $13, 8.2%); and BlackRock Corporate High Yield VI (HYT, $13, 8.1%). All recently traded at close to net asset value. Pikelny suggests buying the one trading at the biggest discount to NAV (or at the smallest premium).
The Morningstar analyst also favors AllianceBernstein Global High Income (AWF, $16, 7.7%). The fund, which takes on a modest amount of debt, invests in corporate bonds and U.S. and foreign government bonds. Top holdings include bonds issued by Brazil and Argentina, but more than 70% of assets are in corporate junk bonds.
If you’re in a high tax bracket, consider a closed-end fund that owns municipal bonds. Nearly all such funds use borrowed money to boost income. One that doesn’t is Nuveen Municipal Value Fund (NUV, $10, 4.4%), which mostly buys high-quality, long-term bonds. Although at first glance the fund’s yield seems to disqualify it from this group, you really need to look at its taxable-equivalent yield—what someone would have to earn from a taxable bond to equal the yield of a tax-free bond. In this case, 4.4% is the equivalent of a 6.1% taxable yield for someone in the 28% federal tax bracket and 7.3% for an investor in the top 39.6% bracket.
For those who can stand more risk, UBS analyst Sangeeta Marfatia favors BlackRock MuniYield Quality (MQY, $17, 5.7%), which also buys long-term, high-grade munis. But unlike the Nuveen fund, this one uses borrowed money to boost income. A 5.7% tax-free yield is equivalent to 7.9% taxable for someone in the 28% bracket and 9.4% for a top-bracket investor.
If you want more diversification, check out PowerShares CEF Income Composite (PCEF, $26, 7.4%). It’s an exchange-traded fund that owns dozens of taxable, income-producing closed-end funds. Most of its holdings borrow money, though the ETF itself does not.