By Brett Owens
Stocks or bonds? For income-focused investors, why not blend the best of both worlds to collect interest and enjoy share price upside?
This is the goal of convertible bonds, a aEURoecountry clubaEUR favorite. (Before the holidays you may be tempted to add some convertibles to your portfolio simply so that you can brag about them to friends and family!)
Convertible bonds, like the preferred shares we discussed last week , pay regular interest. In this way, they act like bonds. You buy them and aEURoelock inaEUR regular coupon payments.
But convertibles are also like stock options in that they can be aEURoeconvertedaEUR from a bond to a share of stock by the holder. So you can think of them as bonds with some stock-like upside.
Switching from creditor to shareholder can be a lucrative move. But buying convertibles does require individual research aEUR" and heartburn. Take TeslaaEURtms ( TSLA ) debt that holders can aEURoeconvertaEUR next March into Tesla stock for a $359.87 conversion price. Today thataEURtmd be an underwater trade for bondholders, with the stock price about $15 lower . This means investors are likely to continue holding Tesla bonds rather than pay $15 per share out of pocket to own the stock:
These Bond Holders Have Heartburn
This sounds fine until we consider that convertibles already pay less interest than regular bonds because of their additional lottery ticket potential. When we buy convertibles, we need upside aEUR" and weaEURtmre not amused when Elon MuskaEURtms aEURoeanticsaEUR send his companyaEURtms share price lower.
IaEURtmd rather save us the research, headaches and heartburn by aEURoeoutsourcingaEUR our convertible bond portfolios to industry experts. As usual, weaEURtmll look to closed-end funds here for three reasons.
First, we can find CEFs that pay more than individual convertibles weaEURtmd be able to buy. Fund managers get the first phone call on these types of deals. Plus, they have access to cheap money that lets them leverage their returns relatively safely. WeaEURtmre going to discuss an excellent convertible-focused CEF fund yielding 5.9% in a moment.
Second, CEFs can (and often do) trade for discounts to their net asset values (or NAVs aEUR" the street value of the convertible bonds they hold). Thanks to current pessimism in CEF-land, the fund IaEURtmm going to highlight trades for just 87 cents on the dollar.
Third, we can hire a manager like Thomas Dinsmore to work for us for free. He usually charges a 1.1% management fee, but thanks to his Ellsworth Growth and Income FundaEURtms ( ECF ) current 13% discount, DinsmoreaEURtms remuneration is aEURoecomped.aEUR
For you Contrarian Income Report subscribers, this discussion on convertibles may ring a bell. Our asset manager Nuveen recently expanded its Preferred & Income Securities FundaEURtms ( JPS ) mandate. Along with preferred securities, the fund began buying hybrids such as convertible securities. (Again, this is a fancy way of saying the fund started purchasing debt that has options to convert to equity.) I advised subscribers not to worry about JPSaEURtm mandate change because we trust the management team.
While few know JPS, more aspiring country clubbers know CWB. The SPDR Barclays Capital Convertible Bond ETF ( CWB ) is the most popular mainstream (read: widely marketed) vehicle to purchase convertibles. It lets investors brag that they own a basket of convertible bonds. But if their friends are impressed, their accountants are not.
CWB has, on the surface, been fine. ItaEURtms generated 168% returns over the last ten years:
Putting CWBaEURtms +168% Gains in Perspective
The problem is that its stock market competition, the S&P 500, returned 293%, and its bond market competition, JPS, returned 286%. Which means this aEURoedumb ETFaEUR blended the two strategies and did worse than them both!
We have one aEURoepure playaEUR option in CEF-land that meets our criteria as a potential investment. DinsmoreaEURtms fund ECF pays 5.9% today (versus CWBaEURtms 3.8% yield) and trades at a generous discount to its NAV (versus a slight premium for CWB):
ECF has returned a tidy 6% on its portfolio since inception and itaEURtms outperformed its too-popular ETF cousin over the past ten years as well. Including dividends, ECF has generated 204% profits versus our only A 168% for CWB:
Once Again, the Smart CEF Money Wins
So should we run and add ECF to our aEURoeNo WithdrawalaEUR Retirement Portfolio? Not yet. I actually prefer three other CEFs as smart aEURoeback dooraEUR ways to play convertible bonds. And all three of my aEURoebest fund buysaEUR boast 8%+ yields right now. Here are the details.
Retire on Just $500K with These CEFs Paying up to 9.4%
Secure closed-end bond funds are a cornerstone of my 8% aEURoeno withdrawalaEUR retirement strategy , which lets retirees rely entirely on dividend income and leave their principal 100% intact.
Well, itaEURtms actually even better than that.
Retirees who follow this strategy enjoy principal that is more than 100% intact thanks to price gain potential. Remember, ECF alone contains 13 cents per dollar per share in aEURoefree moneyaEUR that is available today thanks to its discount to NAV. When the fund swings back into favor and this bargain window closes, investors will enjoy price gains in addition to their generous yields .
Plus investors who buy heavily discounted funds today will lock in more aEURoedividends for their dollaraEUR for life. This is the ultimate dividends-only retirement strategy.
To achieve this, I research and recommend only elite closed-end funds that: