For income-focused investors, the choice between stocks and corporate bonds has been a no-brainer in recent years. In a volatile world, corporate debt tends to be less sensitive to market gyrations and also has offered better yields – last year non-financial European corporate bonds provided a yield pickup of 73 basis points above stocks, Morgan Stanley calculates.
But, long a fan of credit over equity, MS reckons the picture may now be changing and points out that European equities are offering better yields than credit for the first time in over a decade. (The graphic below compares dividend yields on non-financial euro STOXX index with the IBOXX European non-financial corporate bond index. The former narrowly wins.)
The extra yield available on equities, coupled with perceptions of a more stable macro backdrop, may encourage income-oriented investors back into stocks.
The bank has put together a 10-stock basket with an average 2012 yield of 5.1 pct (vs MSCI Europe’s 3.9 pct). That is around 250 bps higher than corresponding bonds. Check out Britain’s Vodafone – its shares offer a whopping 8.3 percent yield. That’s 600 bps above its 5-year implied credit yield.
That sounds tempting. But there are caveats. The best yield pickup is available in sectors where investors remain underweight — utilities and telecoms. And a positive yield gap is not always a bullish signal for stocks, Morgan Stanley warns. Japanese dividend yields have been above bond yields since 2008.