Value Is Scarce Among Income-Generating ETFs

The definition of value is a fierce debate among investors that seek to find intrinsically underpriced assets. Some stand their ground on historical fundamentals like price/earnings or price/book ratios. Others look strictly at price relative to other potential opportunities as a measure of opportunity.

The picture becomes even more complicated when you try to compare or overlay differing asset classes. Income investors often blur the lines between bonds, dividend paying stocks, and alternative income assets. 

They trick themselves into thinking that the risk dynamics between all three are similar as long as they move in lock step with falling interest rates. That often leads to stretching for yield by taking on more interest rate risk or credit risk than most would be comfortable with during a contraction phase.

The combination of rising prices among virtually all income-generating asset classes over the last six months now has created a complex landscape for new money.

Where do you find value when prices are stretched and yields are at some of their lowest levels in years?

Below is a list of the income ETFs that I monitor on a daily basis along with their associated 30-day SEC yields and recent performance.

income etf table

Flipping through longer-term charts (3 years or more) of these funds is an eye opening experience.

U.S.-focused dividend stocks, fixed-income, and even alternative assets are all trading within a percent of two of their highs. Similarly, their yields have fallen to meager levels on a relative and historical basis. One has to wonder about the future prospects for reasonable income and capital appreciation without the continued tailwind of falling interest rates.

us income assets

It’s no wonder that so many famed investors like Jeffrey Gundlach, Bill Gross, and others have turned sour on both stocks and bonds. Read Gundlach’s recent comments hereGross’ can be found here.

The two areas of stark contrast are international dividend paying stocks and master limited partnerships (MLPs). Both of these indexes are still trading well below their prior highs and potentially offer further upside. Their yields also reflect a premium to traditional fixed-income and U.S. equity counterparts.

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