There's been a lot of drama surrounding financial markets during the first four months of 2016. By some measures, it was the worst start to the year ever for U.S. stocks. This was followed by a surprisingly robust recovery.
But for all the painful turmoil, the S&P 500 is trading pretty much where it started the year. This flat performance also means many income strategies are outperforming stocks by a wide margin in 2016. Of course, income investments come in all shapes and sizes. You can invest in high-dividend stocks (both domestic and international), high-yield bonds, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), Business Development Companies (BDCs), Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) or even strategies that generate income by selling call options against the S&P 500.
Over the long term, a mixture of these strategies is most prudent. After all, every strategy has its day. What works today won't necessarily work tomorrow. Just ask any investor in MLPs, which have been hit unusually hard by the collapse of the energy sector. Looking across today's landscape of income investments, there's a new, hot sector in income-generating strategies.
And I bet it's one that you have not looked at in years. As I surveyed the top-performing, income-oriented investments for 2016, I was surprised to find that it was the much-derided international stock markets - or more specifically, emerging markets - that accounted for three out of the five top-performing income investment strategies that I track. The top-performing strategy invested in REITs, but it did so across the globe.
With that, here are the…
Top Performing Income ETFs in 2016
- Global X Super Dividend REIT ETF (NASDAQ:SRET) - 15.72% Gain
The Global X SuperDividend REIT ETF invests in 30 of the highest dividend-yielding REITs globally. SRET invests in REITs from around the globe, which diversifies both geographic and interest rate exposure. Global REITs are having their day in the sun because housing shortages - exacerbated by lagging construction after the 2008 financial crisis - have combined with a recovering economy to boost demand for real estate.
SRET yields a whopping 9.09% yield. SRET makes distributions on a monthly basis, providing a regular source of income for a portfolio. The fund's total expense ratio is 0.58%. SRET has risen 12.34% so far this year. With dividends, SRET has generated a total return of 15.72% year to date.
A word of warning: The total assets of this REIT are a mere $5.6 million, so you may run into wide bid-ask spreads or even liquidity issues with this one.
- ALPS Emerging Sector Dividend Dogs ETF (NYSEARCA:EDOG) - 14.19% Gain
The ALPS Emerging Sector Dividend Dogs ETF tracks a proprietary index comprised of the 500 largest stocks from middle-income emerging market countries. It then invests in the five highest-yielding securities (based on regular cash dividends) in each of the 10 Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) sectors.
EDOG yields 3.79%, and makes distributions on a quarterly basis. The fund's total expense ratio is 0.60%. EDOG has risen 13.58% so far this year. With dividends, it has generated a total return of 14.19% year to date.
- Pimco Municipal Income Fund II (NYSE:PML) - 12.29% Gain
The PIMCO Municipal Income Fund II is an actively managed, highly leveraged municipal fund. The fund typically generates its large distribution by venturing down the credit spectrum into non-rated and junk-rated muni debt, focusing on the intermediate and long portions of the yield curve, then leveraging its holdings.
Say the words "invest in municipal bonds," and most investors can barely stifle a yawn. Yet, returns on municipal bonds have beaten the broader stock market in 2015 and are among the best-performing income investments over the past five years.
That's a surprise. After all, in 2012, major cities in the United States such as Detroit and San Bernardino, California, went bankrupt. Analyst Meredith Whitney grabbed headlines with her prediction that there would be between 50 and 100 "significant" municipal bond defaults in 2011, totaling "hundreds of billions" of dollars. Very little of this doom and gloom came to pass.
PML yields 6.12%. PML has maintained a level income-only monthly distribution of $0.065 per share since 2007. PML has logged returns of an annualized 13.46% over the past five years. The fund's total expense ratio is a relatively high 1.16%. PML has risen 9.99% so far this year and, with dividends, it has generated a total return of 12.29% year to date.
- EGShares Low Volatility Emerging Markets Dividend ETF (NYSEARCA:HILO) - 9.49% Gain
The EGShares Low Volatility Emerging Markets Dividend ETF tracks the EGAI Emerging Markets Quality Dividend Index. This is an equal-weighted index designed to represent a portfolio of approximately 50 companies in developing markets, each of which has a higher dividend yield than the average dividend yield in the EGAI Developing Markets Universe.
The fund also seeks to capture dividend quality by screening for factors such as return on equity, positive earnings growth, maximum dividend yield and three-year dividend payment consistency.
HILO yields 2.89%. HILO makes distributions on a quarterly basis. The fund's total expense ratio is a relatively high 0.85%. HILO has risen 8.72% so far this year and, with dividends, it has generated a total return of 9.49% year to date.
- Global X SuperDividend Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEARCA:SDEM) - 9.12% Gain
The Global X SuperDividend Emerging Markets ETF invests in 50 of the highest dividend-yielding equities in emerging markets. Investing in high dividend-yielding securities in the emerging market space combines a value-oriented investment approach with exposure to markets that are expected to grow at a faster pace than developed markets.
SDEM yields 6.89%. SDEM makes distributions on a monthly basis, providing a regular source of income for a portfolio. The fund's total expense ratio is 0.65%. SDEM has risen 6.92% so far this year. With dividends, it has generated a total return of 9.12% year to date.