Investors this year increasingly turned away from dividend stocks in favor of the rising yields being offered on bonds. Given that investors can now earn a 4.3% return on a 2-year Treasury note, many prefer that guaranteed return to the risks of putting money into the stock market.

International Business Machines (IBM 0.13%) offers a dividend yield that exceeds that bond return. But with a bear market in progress, are investors better served to take a chance on the cloud stock or to take the 4.3% return at virtually zero risk?

IBM and its dividend

IBM didn't participate in the bull market of the 2010s. The stock dropped as its tech businesses suffered a considerable growth slowdown. In an effort to change that, IBM pivoted into the cloud computing sector aggressively, in part via its $34 billion purchase of Red Hat in 2019. Grand View Research forecasts a compound annual growth rate of 16% through 2030 for the cloud industry. Growth like that could certainly help both IBM and its stock.

Also, IBM spun off its managed infrastructure business into a new public company, Kyndryl. This business was less of a fit with the parent company amid its pivot to the cloud. Separating it off should make it easier for IBM to grow its revenue.

Time will tell if these moves can help the stock price recover. Nonetheless, IBM currently pays its shareholders $1.65 per share every quarter, or $6.60 per share annually. At the current stock price, that adds up to a yield of 5.6% per year. Moreover, depending on your financial situation, the IRS may tax your dividends at a lower capital gains rate, which can offer an added advantage.

Additionally, IBM hiked its payout annually for 27 consecutive years, making it a Dividend Aristocrat. That status carries some importance as many income investors will be more inclined to buy and hold IBM stock because of this status. Also, since abandoning Dividend Aristocrat status tends to hurt a stock, management will probably prioritize maintaining it by continuing to raise those payouts.

Investors also can also reinvest their dividend payments into more IBM stock. However, such newly purchased shares will pay you the dividend yield at that time. The return will rise if the stock falls since investors can buy the exact cash return at a lower price. Conversely, cash yields will drop if the stock rises, but those investors still benefit since the stock has increased in value.

What to know about 2-year Treasury notes

U.S. Treasury notes offer more stability than stocks such as IBM. Investors who purchase the 2-year Treasury note receive semiannual interest payments. At the current interest rate of 4.3%, investors will receive a 2.15% cash return on their invested amount in each of the subsequent three six-month periods. In the fourth period, when the note matures, investors receive the final 2.15% payment along with the return of their principal.

Investors should also be aware that bond values can fluctuate. If interest rates drop, the value of the bond will fall; the opposite will happen if rates rise. This affects investors if they decide to sell the bond early. Upon maturity, the note will return to its par (or nominal) value.

Additionally, bond interest payments are subject to federal income tax but exempt from state and local taxes. In some cases, this is higher than taxes on dividends. Still, bond issuers are obligated to make such payments. In contrast, IBM faces no legal obligation to continue its dividend.

Also, like with a stock, investors can reinvest their interest payments into more notes or other forms of Treasury bonds. However, those purchases will be subject to the prevailing interest rates at that time.

IBM or the 2-year Treasury note?

Investors who lack much risk tolerance should choose the Treasury note. Given its guaranteed return, they will not have to worry about volatility.

Nonetheless, for investors comfortable with buying stocks, IBM is a surprisingly strong buy. The cloud industry is in growth mode, which should propel IBM stock to a long-awaited turnaround. Moreover, IBM has repeatedly shown it wants to hold on to its Dividend Aristocrat status. This should give its income investors returns that are not only larger than the bonds offer, but also likely to increase in size.