You can find plenty of good common stocks with spiffy yields. But if getting 3% or 4%, or maybe a little more, from a regular stock doesn't float your boat, you may want to turn to securities that are a little more esoteric.
Let's start with master limited partnerships. MLPs are publicly traded limited partnerships. They don't pay taxes; investors, the limited partners, do. MLPs must distribute to investors nearly all the cash flow they generate, resulting in high yields. However, MLPs can complicate your tax returns -- even, potentially, if you hold them inside of an IRA.
Most MLPs derive most of their income from real estate or natural resources. The highest yielders extract, transport and store oil and natural gas. A nice thing about the pipeline businesses is that performance isn't tied to the price of oil or gas. Rather, such MLPs make their money by moving and processing the commodities. Jerry Swank, who runs Cushing MLP Total Return (symbol SRV), a closed-end fund, says that energy MLPs are capable of producing total returns -- from distributions and price appreciation -- of 10% to 15% a year.
Look for MLPs that can boost their distributions on a steady basis. A good place to start is Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (KMP). This Houston pipeline-and-storage firm increased its distribution by 8% in 2010. At $72, it yields 6.2% (all prices, yields and returns are through February 11). Boardwalk Pipeline Partners (BWP), another Houston pipeline company, has raised its dividend every quarter since going public in 2005. At $33, the units, as MLP shares are called, yield 6.2%.
Like MLPs, royalty trusts typically invest in energy assets, they don't pay taxes, and they pay out nearly all of their cash flow. However, royalty trusts own actual commodities and make money from selling the oil, natural gas or coal they own.
Because royalty trusts are pure commodity plays, their share prices and distributions fluctuate with commodity prices. Also, be aware that trusts have a limited lifetime. When the commodity is depleted, the trust shuts down. San Juan Basin Royalty Trust (SJT), of Fort Worth, owns natural-gas-producing properties in New Mexico's San Juan Basin and should last at least ten more years. At $24, the trust yields 6.9%. BP Prudhoe Bay Royalty Trust (BPT) owns an oil field in Alaska that isn't expected to close before 2023. At $107, the trust yields 8.2%.
Closed-end funds trade like stocks. But unlike their newer and more popular cousins, exchange-traded funds, closed-ends don't contain the mechanisms that prevent their share prices from diverging significantly from the value of their underlying holdings.
One closed-end to consider is NFJ Dividend Interest & Premium Strategy (NFJ), which, at $18, sold at a 7% discount to NAV. The fund holds 61% of its assets in U.S. stocks and 11% in European stocks. In addition, it earns extra income by selling call options (which give the buyer the right to buy a stock at a certain price by a certain time). The fund yields a stellar 10.2%. Over the past year, it returned 18.2% on its assets, compared with 25.7% for Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. Annual expenses, at 0.98%, are reasonable.
If you prefer ETFs, check out Guggenheim Multi-Asset Income ETF (CVY). It holds 148 securities, including U.S. stocks, preferred stocks, real estate trusts, MLPs, closed-end funds and foreign stocks. Financial companies and utilities make up 45% of the portfolio. The ETF, which yields 4.6%, returned 5.2% over the past year. The annual fee is 0.6%.