The quest for real income

By October 26, 2023Investments, Savings

Base interest rates have increased sharply over the last 18 months, as Central Banks aim to tackle high levels of inflation. As a result, interest rates on cash deposits have increased and those who look to produce an income from savings and investments can now generate relatively healthy levels of interest from deposit accounts.

On the face of it, cash is a risk-free investment, as the initial cash balance deposited does not fluctuate in value; however, the hidden risk in holding cash is the eroding impact of inflation. Let’s look at a typical savings account that is paying 4% annual interest before tax, which was opened one year ago. At face value, holding a deposit in this account will have earned 4% return and you will still hold your capital value. The hidden risk is that the real value of the cash deposited – i.e. adjusted for inflation – will have fallen. At the time of writing, the rate of UK inflation over the last 12 months has been 6.7%, which means that the amount deposited will be worth 2.7% less in real terms than when the account was opened. There are other risks of cash too, as the highest paying accounts restrict access to your money, and attention needs to be paid to the limits afforded by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

As we move into 2024, we expect interest rates to fall as inflationary pressure eases further, and the eye-catching rates on offer now may be a distant memory in twelve months’ time. This leaves investors who are holding cash needing to find another home as a way of generating income. This is where Equity Income investments have a real advantage over time, and as part of a diversified portfolio, can look to generate an attractive and rising income yield.

Look to dividend income

Part of the return from holding Equities are the regular distributions of excess profits, in the form of dividends. Most mature companies declare dividends to shareholders at regular intervals, and a company that enjoys a strong performance may well look to increase its’ dividend payments over time, which could potentially offset the effects of inflation.

There are a number of global stocks that have a track record of increasing dividends year on year, with the likes of Coca- Cola, IBM and Johnson and Johnson being prime examples of US listed global companies who have consistently raised their dividends each year for the last 25 consecutive years. The UK also has a smaller list of companies who have consistently raised their dividends, such as British American Tobacco and Diageo.

Dividend income is only one part of the potential return that can be achieved from holding Equities, as holding company shares can also offer scope for capital gains over time. Whilst Equities will introduce short-term volatility – which is not a feature of cash accounts – the long-term track record of returns generated by Equities markets highlights the capacity for Equities to significantly outperform returns achieved from cash deposits.

Spreading the risk

Dividends are, however, not guaranteed, and by holding individual Equities you introduce stock-specific risk. Changes in the fortunes of the company in which shares are held can not only impact the share price, but also the potential for dividend growth. Indeed, a company that begins to struggle may look to cut its’ dividends, or cancel it altogether.

As a way of mitigating this risk, we would suggest that holding Equity Income funds is a more appropriate way of gaining access to companies that pay an attractive dividend stream. This can help avoid the potential for issues with one particular company or sector having too great an impact on the overall fund value. Whilst there are a limited number of passive investments that specifically target stocks with increasing dividends, the majority of Equity Income funds are actively managed. This is where a manager or management team will look to select positions and build the portfolio, with a view to holding companies that offer an attractive and increasing dividend yield, and good prospects for capital growth over the longer term.

Equity Income funds cover most geographic areas of the World, providing access to dividend producing companies from the UK, US, Europe and Far East. There is also a wide range of Global Equity Income funds, where the fund manager can select the most appropriate positions from anywhere in the World.

As the performance of an actively-managed Equity Income fund relies on the skill of the manager, it is important to select the right fund – or blend of funds – to seek out the best performance. The level of income, and overall return, achieved from within the Global Equity Income sector can vary significantly from the best to worst performance over time, and this is where careful analysis of the fund, portfolio strategy and management style are crucial. The FAS Investment Committee regularly meets with leading fund managers from all sectors, including those who manage Equity Income funds. These regular meetings strengthen our quantitative approach to fund selection, so that we can truly understand the methods and rationale behind the portfolio selection process.

Equities as part of a diversified portfolio

It is important to point out that Equity Income funds are one of a range of different options for those seeking an income from their savings or investments. Cash deposits absolutely have a place in most sensible financial plans; however, the amount held in cash needs to be considered carefully, as the hidden eroding impact of inflation over time can easily eat into the real value of deposits.

Speak to one of our experienced advisers to discuss the options to generate an income.