Investing for an income in a low interest rate environment
If you are an income-seeking saver in search of good returns from your savings in this low interest rate environment, we can provide you with the professional advice you need to enable you to consider all the options available. In addition, we can help you determine what levels of income you may need and work with you to review this regularly as your requirements change. Another major consideration is your attitude towards risk for return and availability. This will determine which asset class you are comfortable investing in.
Cash, especially in the current climate, is an important element for any income investor. One option you may wish to discuss with us is cash funds, dubbed ‘money market’ portfolios. These use the pooled savings of many investors to benefit from higher rates not available to individuals. They can invest in the most liquid, high-quality cash deposits and ‘near-cash’ instruments such as bonds. But, unlike a normal deposit account, the value of a cash fund can fall as well as rise, although in theory, at least, it should not experience volatile swings.
Bonds are a form of debt, an ‘IOU’ issued by either governments or firms looking to raise capital. As an investor, when you purchase a bond you are essentially lending the money to the government or company for a set period of time, which varies according to the issuer. In return you will receive interest, typically paid twice a year, and when the bond reaches maturity you usually get back your initial investment. But you don’t have to keep a bond until maturity. You can, if you wish, sell it on.
Much of the government’s debt, including the additional money being used to aid the economy and refinance the banks, is in the form of bonds it issues. Gilts are bonds issued by the British government. The advantage of gilts is that the government is unlikely to fail to pay interest or repay its debt, so they are generally the safest investments. To date, the UK government has never failed to pay back money owed to investors. Government bonds pay a known and regular income (called the coupon) and a lump sum at maturity (called the par). They typically perform well as the economy slows and inflation falls.
Government bonds tend to move in the opposite direction to shares and historically are good diversifiers. But on the flipside, the government is likely to issue more gilts and this large supply may lead to falls in gilt prices. As government bonds pay a fixed income stream, the real value of these payments erodes if inflation rises. Similarly, the value of bonds typically falls when interest rates rise.
Corporate bonds operate under the same principle as gilts, in other words companies issue debt (bonds) to fund their activities.
High-quality, well-established companies that generate lots of cash are the safest corporate bond issuers and their bonds are known as ‘investment grade’.
High-yield bonds are issued by companies that are judged more likely to default. To attract investors, higher interest is offered. These are known as ‘sub-investment grade’ bonds.
The risks related to investing in bonds can be reduced if you invest through a bond fund. Here the fund manager selects a range of bonds, so you are less reliant on the performance of one company or government. The ‘distribution yield’ gives a simple indication of what returns are likely to be over the next 12 months. The ‘underlying yield’ gives an indication of returns after expenses if all bonds in the fund are held to maturity.
An alternative route to generating income is by investing in stocks that pay a dividend. If a firm is making good profits it can decide to share this with investors rather than reinvest it in the business, so essentially dividends are the investors’ share of company profits. Share prices of companies that regularly pay dividends tend to be less volatile than other companies, but remember that company shares can fall in value. In addition, dividends can be cut if a company finds itself in need of extra cash.
Another way to invest in equities for the purpose of obtaining a better income is via an equity income fund.
The fund manager running the portfolio selects a wide range of equities, so you are less reliant on the performance of any one particular company, and will try to select companies that pay regular dividends.
The value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up and you may not get back your original investment. Past performance is not an indication of future performance. Tax benefits may vary as a result of statutory change and their value will depend on individual circumstances. Thresholds, percentage rates and tax legislation may change in subsequent finance acts.