5 Manufactured High Yielders

If you rely on bond interest or stock dividend payments for current income, you're probably looking for answers. With short-term treasury bills yielding 0.25%, five-year CDs paying 2.26%, and the average S&P 500 stock only offering a 1.9% dividend yield, it may be tempting to reach for extra yield by buying shares in dubious companies. Don't.

Investors in oil refiner Valero learned their lesson the hard way. In 2006 and 2007, business was booming; refining spreads were wide, the company generated millions in free cash flow, and it nearly doubled its yearly dividend payment from $0.32 to $0.60. Valero retained its dividend policy, and throughout 2009, it had an attractive dividend. But eventually, the commodity nature of the refining business caught up with the cash flows. In 2010, the company was forced to cut its dividend by 66%.

Instead of investing in marginal businesses because they have a 4% yield, consider writing covered call options on good or great businesses that have a less flashy yield, to generate a higher "manufactured yield" and boost returns.

Covered calls made simple
If you own 100 shares of a good or great business, or if you're looking to acquire them, you may be able to write (or sell) covered calls on your shares and be paid option income for your troubles.

Here's a quick example of how it works: You own 500 shares of Buccaneer Inc., maker of creamsicle-colored athletic gear and eye patches (clearly a great business), run by the legendary Bucco Bruce. The stock trades for $25, and after thorough analysis, you're OK with selling at $30. Checking the options markets, you see that call options with a $30 strike price expiring in three months pay $2.75.

Because each call option covers 100 shares, that $2.75 is actually $275. But since you'd be willing to sell all 500 of your shares, you could write five call options and be paid a total of $1,375 in exchange for a promise to sell your shares if the stock price reaches or exceeds $30 by the end of the three month period.

If Buccaneer Inc. stays below $30 by the time the options expire, you get to keep the $1,375 and your shares in the excellent business. You could then write a second round of covered calls if you still wish to sell your shares.

If, instead, the stock rises to $30 or higher by the option expiration, your shares will be sold ("called away") at the strike price. Taking into consideration the option premium you were paid, your net selling price is $32.75 (the $30 strike price plus the $2.75 in premium you demanded).

The downside of swashbuckling with covered calls
Of course, if creamsicle becomes the summer's hot new hue, Buccaneer brand eye patches will sell like crazy, and the stock could soar well beyond $30. In such a case, you'd be missing out on some prime profits. Writing covered call options swaps the stock's upside above the strike price for an option premium. Before you take the plunge, be certain that your predictions of color popularity are spot-on.

With missed upside as their main danger, I'd consider covered calls a low-risk strategy. If you're able to write new calls every few months, adding 4% to 8% in option premiums can have a great impact on your returns. This added yield should make stocks paying a below-market dividend yield look much more attractive for income-minded folk willing to manufacture a higher payment.

5 stocks with high manufactured yields
Which 2% yielders, with the help of call options, may be able to help quench income-seeking thirst right now? I searched for strong companies with below-market dividend yields that earn high profit margins. Among the companies that passed muster, five stuck out above the rest as good or great businesses that when combined with a covered call strategy could offer great results.

Company

Dividend Yield

Profit Margin

Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE: BK  )

1.1%

12.8%

Nike (NYSE: NKE  )

1.5%

10.3%

Pall (NYSE: PLL  )

1.3%

10.0%

Charles Schwab (Nasdaq: SCHW  )

1.3%

12.1%

Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB  )

1.0%

16.7%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

As my friend and colleague Bryan White notes:

Schlumberger is the clear leader in oilfield services in terms of size, scope, and technology, and it's in a superior position to its competition to benefit from a ramp up in oil exploration spending. The company's size -- which dwarfs its nearest competitors: Halliburton (NYSE: HAL  ) , Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI  ) , and Weatherford -- makes it a key companion for some of the largest oil companies in the world and helps produce the most attractive profit margins when business booms.

Recently, shares sold for $84, and $90 call options expiring in May 2011 could be written for $3.35. If you bought the stock and sold the covered call, you would have a potential sell price on your shares of $93.35 --11% above current prices.

In February, you should get a $0.21 dividend payment; when combined with our $3.35 call premium income, that makes for a 4.2% yield in just four and a half months. Best of all, we retain the next $6 of potential share price appreciation. Pretty tasty for a market leader, especially when you can write another call option after May expiration and earn even more premium!

Pall makes filters for two very attractive end markets: wastewater and air purification. Shares recently sold for $50. After a 40% run up over the past six months, shares are approaching a fair valuation. March 2011 $50 0months, shares are approaching a fair valuation. call options recently paid $2.30, offering an effective yield of 4.6% in a little over two months. If shares rise and are called away at the $50 strike price, you'll have earned a return of nearly 5% ($2.35 in option premium and $0.16 in dividends). If shares are below $50, you've still got ownership in a very profitable business with another dividend coming in May, and you can write more covered calls if you choose.

The Foolish bottom line
Finding solid businesses selling for reasonable prices remains the key to success in investing. But for income-minded investors, manufacturing a higher dividend using covered calls should expand the universe of potential candidates to include some below-market yielders that may normally fall under the radar.

To learn more about the profitable options strategies we've been using to help make money in up, down, and sideways markets, simply enter your email address in the box below to receive information on Motley Fool Pro, a real-money portfolio service that's reopened to the public for a limited time.

This article was originally published December 8, 2010. It has been updated.

Bryan Hinmon doesn't own any shares mentioned in this article, but he is a huge Tampa Bay Bucs fan, and he does own a creamsicle eye patch. Nike and Charles Schwab are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Schlumberger. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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