My preference is for a lower use of bonds than the normal portfolio balancing strategies use. I just find the risks greater than the benefits. This preference increases as yields decline. Given the historically low interest rates we have been experiencing the last few years (and low yields even for close to a decade) I really believe bonds are not a good investment. Now for someone approaching or in retirement I do think some bonds are probably wise to balance the portfolio (or CDs). But I would limit maturities/duration to 2 or 3 years. And really I would pursue high yielding stocks much more than normal.
In general I like high yielding stocks for retirement portfolios. Many are very good long term investments overall and I prefer to put a portion of the portfolio others would place in bonds in high yielding stocks. Unfortunately 401(k) [and 403(b)] retirement accounts often don’t offer an option to do this. Luckily IRAs give you the options to invest as you chose and by placing your IRA in a brokerage account you can use this strategy. In a limited investing option retirement account [such as a 401(k)] look for short term bond funds, inflation protected bonds and real estate funds – but you have to evaluate if those funds are good – high expenses will destroy the reasons to invest in bond funds.
There are actually quite a few attractive high yield stocks now. I would strive for a very large amount of diversity in high yield stocks that are meant to take a portion of the bonds place in a balanced portfolio. In the portion of the portfolio aimed at capital appreciation I think too much emphasis is placed on “risk” (more concentration is fine in my opinion – if you believe you have a good risk reward potential). But truthfully most people are better off being more diversified but those that really spend the time (it takes a lot of time and experience to invest well) can take on more risk.
A huge advantage of dividends stocks is they often increase the dividend over time. And this is one of the keys to evaluate when selected these stock investments. So you can buy a stock that pays a 4% yield today and 5 years down the road you might be getting 5.5% yield (based on increased dividend payouts and your original purchase price). Look for a track record of increasing dividends historically. And the likelihood of continuing to do so (this is obviously the tricky part). One good value to look at is the dividend payout rate (dividend/earnings). A relatively low payout (for the industry – using an industry benchmark is helpful given the different requirement for investing in the business by industry) gives you protection against downturns (as does the past history of increasing payouts). It also provides the potential for outsized increases in the future.
There are a number of stocks that look good in this category to me now. ONEOK Partners LP pays a dividend of 5.5% an extremely high rate. They historically have increased the dividend. They are a limited partnership which are a strange beast not quite a corporation and you really need to read up and understand the risks with such investments. ONEOK is involved in the transportation and storage of natural gas. I would limit the exposure of the portfolio to limited partnerships (master limited partnerships). They announced today that the are forecasting a 20% increase in 2012 earnings so the stock will likely go up (and the yield go down – it is up 3.4% in after hours trading).
Another stock I like in this are is Abbott, a very diversified company in the health care field. This stock yields 3.8% and has good potential to grow. That along with a 3.8% yield (much higher than bond yields, is very attractive).
My 12 stocks for 10 year portfolio holds a couple investments in this category: Intel, Pfizer and PetroChina. Intel yields 3.9% and has good growth prospects though it also has the risk of deteriorating margins. There margins have remains extremely high for a long time. Maybe it can continue but maybe not. Pfizer yeilds 4.6% today which is a very nice yield. At this time, I think I prefer Abbott but given the desire for more diversification in this portion of the portfolio both would be good holdings. Petro China yields 4% today.
When invested in a retirement portfolio prior to retirement I would probably just set up automatic reinvesting of the dividends. Once in retirement as income is needed then you can start talking the dividends as cash, to provide income to pay living expenses. I would certainly suggest more than 10 stocks for this portion of a portfolio and an investor needs to to educate themselves evaluate the risks and value of their investments or hire someone who they trust to do so.