A Plug for Preferred Stocks
Preferred stocks, which are issued largely by banks, insurance companies and utilities, generally pay fixed dividends like bonds but trade like stocks. Stocks in Standard & Poor's U.S. Preferred Stock index pay an average dividend yield of 5.6%. Though preferred dividends aren't guaranteed--companies can trim or suspend them--the payment of these coupons takes priority over the payment of common-stock dividends (hence the term "preferred").
These stock-bond hybrids were hit hard during the March sell-off--the S&P U.S. Preferred Stock index fell 31.0%, just shy of the 33.8% crash in Standard & Poor's 500-stock index--and are now cheap on a historical basis, says Brian Rehling, head of global fixed income strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. Preferred stocks will sell off when stocks do but, like bonds, are also sensitive to interest-rate moves, falling in price as rates rise. The credit quality of the typical preferred stock fund, double-B, is just below investment grade, and interest-rate sensitivity is comparable to the typical intermediate-term bond fund.
Consider iShares Preferred & Income Securities ETF (symbol PFF, price $33, expense ratio 0.46%). The exchange-traded fund, which has lost 9.3% since the start of the year--compared with a 10.7% loss in the S&P 500--yields 5.0%. Over the past decade, it has returned an annualized 5.2%. Invesco Preferred ETF (PGX, $14, 0.52%) is worth a look, too. It yields 5.4%. Over the past decade, PGX has returned an annualized 6.6%.
Good (and Cheap) Small Stocks
Small-company stocks are cheaper relative to stocks in the broad market than they've been in years. But during a recession, stick to firms with solid balance sheets and little debt.
Tech company Digi International (DGII, $10) has a strong market position tied to the internet of things, says Andy Adams, manager of Mairs & Power Small Cap. Digi provides real-time temperature-tracking systems that help CVS Health, among others, make sure their temperature-sensitive drugs are stored properly; Walmart uses Digi's system to track temperatures for food storage. Still, shares are down 41% so far this year. "COVID will slow business at Digi" as customers put off purchases and equipment upgrades, says Adams, "but it won't tamp long-term demand."
Wasatch Small Cap Value manager Jim Larkins likes Fabrinet (FN, $55). Shares in this maker of communications components have held up better than other small-company stocks, but Fabrinet is still down 19% from its 52-week high. The firm is benefiting from higher demand for bandwidth because it makes the components that data centers use to drive higher speeds on the internet. Fabrinet's competitive edge is its high level of customized manufacturing. "Fabrinet factories are factories within factories," says Larkins. "Customers have dedicated spaces with walls, so their intellectual property is protected." Plus, Fabrinet is flush with $436 million in cash and little debt.
Shares of Medifast (MED, $91) have shed nearly 40% from their price since hitting a 52-week high of $147 last May. The company sells weight-loss and healthy-living products (under the brands Medifast and Optavia) online and through medical professionals, among other outlets. Over the past five years, revenue increased 23%, on average, per year, and earnings jumped by 36%. But 2020 will be a transition year, says Value Line analyst Oriatal Haiby, as the firm gains fewer new clients and deals with coronavirus-related shutdowns. Business should improve in 2021, when supply-chain disruptions subside and new products roll out. Meanwhile, Medifast has little debt and lots of cash, and it wins an A grade from Value Line for financial strength.
For a diversified collection of small-company stocks, consider O'Shares FTSE Russell Small Cap Quality Dividend (OUSM, $22, 0.48%), an ETF that tracks an index of small companies with strong cash flows and earnings, low debt, and above-average dividend payouts. Over the past 12 months, OUSM held up better than the Russell 2000 small-company index, albeit with a 14.9% loss.
Funds That Reward Patience
In the latest salvo in the fund-fee wars, Fidelity Investments has launched funds with expense ratios that decrease the longer you hold them. The eight new funds invest in line with specific themes, across sectors, countries and company sizes. Fidelity Disruptive Automation (FBOTX), for example, invests in companies that design and make tools and processes for robotics, artificial intelligence and autonomous driving, among other things. Fidelity Disruptive Medicine (FMEDX) focuses on firms involved in robotic surgery, genomics and rare diseases. The longer you hold, the lower the funds' fees; their expense ratio begins at 1.00% but drops to 0.75% after one year and 0.50% after three years. The typical sector fund charges an expense ratio of 1.30%.
Perks From Your Broker
Virtually all online brokers offer free trades on stocks and exchange-traded funds, along with ample research and tools. You might also gravitate to brokers offering features such as the ones below.
See Also: The Best Online Brokers
Sign-up bonuses. Most brokers will give new customers cash for signing up. Ally Invest has the most generous offer going, with up to $3,500 (for accounts of $2 million) when new investors transfer or open an account.
Dividend tools. Four brokers--E*Trade, Interactive Brokers, Merrill Edge and TD Ameritrade--have income-estimating tools that can help you keep on top of future payments. Each tool uses recent payout data to project the value and timing of your portfolio's dividend payments over the next 12 months.
Partial-share purchases. Charles Schwab, Fidelity and Interactive Brokers have joined smaller brokers such as Robinhood and Stash in offering partial shares of stock. Schwab's new feature allows investors to buy "slices" of stocks in the S&P 500 for as little $5. Fidelity and Interactive Brokers will let you buy as little as 1 cent's worth of stock.
You may have developed a habit of ordering in while sheltering in place, or you may have grown accustomed to having your groceries delivered to your front door. (Nearly one-third of U.S. households shopped for groceries online in March.) Usually, those conveniences come at a premium, but you can find some great deals to help feed your food-delivery hankerings.
Free grocery deliveries. Amazon Fresh grocery delivery is free for Prime members. Don't mind buying in bulk? Boxed, a delivery service that sells foods, wine and household products, offers free delivery and no membership fees on all orders greater than $79.
Credit card perks. With some Chase cards, such as Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom, cardholders are eligible for $60 in annual credits for food-delivery service DoorDash, as well as a free DoorDash Plus membership, which features free delivery from select restaurants. Amex Gold cardholders receive up to $120 in annual dining credits at food-delivery services Grubhub and Seamless. If you're partial to Uber Eats, Uber Visa cardholders earn 5% cash back on all orders through the app, as well as 3% cash back on restaurant purchases.
Deals on prepared meals. Meal kits such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh have been around for years, but they require you to cook. If you'd prefer to simply heat up prepared meals, you can try a number of oven-ready meal services--and many of them offer rewards to new customers. Freshly provides single-serving meals that heat up in the microwave in minutes, and it frequently offers deals for newcomers. In May, for example, it offered $60 off the first five orders. Or try Home Chef, which offers prepared meals that come in oven-safe trays; new members receive $100 off their first four boxes.
Don't forget Fido. Pet Plate, which has no delivery fees, will drop off dog food that comes in convenient pre-portioned cups. Chewy, a pet food and supplies delivery service, offers free shipping on orders over $49 and up to 10% off select brands when you sign up for its repeat delivery service.
As employers unveil plans to extend remote work options, it may be time for you to build a space that's optimized to help you stay focused and productive (see below for computer and tablet deals).
ApexDesk Vortex Series 60-inch ($498). "Sitting at your desk is so 20th century," says Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief at tech product review site Lifewire.com. Ulanoff likes this wide standing desk--it has plenty of room for your laptop, monitor, mouse and other office gear. Working at a traditional desk? Give the Stand Steady Mega Standing Desk a look. At only $100, this desk topper turns any workspace into a standing desk.
Alera Elusion Mesh Mid-Back Swivel/Tilt Chair ($150). Spending long hours sitting at a computer can cause back and neck pain. Mélanie Berliet, general manager at home products review website The Spruce, suggests this affordable model, which features a contoured seat cushion designed to relieve pressure on your legs.
MSI Optix 32-inch 4K ($400). Working on a larger screen makes juggling multiple assignments a lot easier. This monitor has a curved screen with anti-flicker and blue light reduction technologies to help reduce eyestrain and fatigue. The caveat? "It's not perfect," says Justin Jaffe, a senior editor at CNET, a technology news and product review website. For example, its USB-C ports won't power your devices, "but a 32-inch 4K display for $400 is a superb value," he says.
Epson XP-6100 ($150). This all-in-one inkjet printer lets you copy, scan and print documents from your phone or computer. "It's easy to set up, has a reasonably compact footprint, and delivers good-enough photos," says Jaffe.
TP-Link RE360 ($30). This range extender is "far and away the best value on the market," says Jaffe. The device is inexpensive, fast, reliable, works with just about every router out there and is easy to use.
We asked Louis Ramirez, deals editor for product review website Tom's Guide, where to find the best bargains on a range of devices.
Laptops. More people are working from home, and demand for laptops is up. For less than $600, stores such as Amazon, Best Buy, the Microsoft Store and Walmart are selling laptops with up-to-date hardware--look for one with a current, 10th-generation Intel processor, at least 8 gigabytes of RAM, and a minimum 256GB solid state drive (SSD). Amazon was recently selling an Acer Aspire 5 Slim laptop that fills the bill for $580--and sometimes the price drops to near $540, says Ramirez. If you want something simpler--say, for your child's schoolwork--check out Chromebooks. You can usually find the Samsung Chromebook 3 for $199 or less, Ramirez says.
Tablets. "Tablet deals, particularly for the iPad, have been sporadic," says Ramirez. But if you're interested in an iPad Pro, you can find price cuts of about $100 to $150 on previous-generation models that came out in 2018. Check Amazon, Best Buy, Target and B&H Photo Video for deals. B&H, for example, recently sold an 11-inch, 256GB, Wi-Fi-only 2018 model for $800, a $150 savings. You may find the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 selling for up to $350 off at Amazon, Best Buy and the Microsoft Store.
TVs. Look for deals on 4K TVs from TCL, a brand that is "giving bigger manufacturers a run for their money when it comes to features, performance and price," says Ramirez. Recently, Best Buy, Target and Walmart all sold a 55-inch TCL 4K Roku Smart TV for $300. And Best Buy sold a 75-inch model for $750.
Smartphones. Apple's new iPhone SE has a standard starting price of $399--far lower than other current-generation iPhone models. It's hard to take good photos at night with the phone, but "that's really the only drawback" for most people, Ramirez says. And recently, you could buy it from Walmart for as little as $199 if you activated it with AT&T or Verizon Wireless. Android devotees should check out the OnePlus 8, which has a starting price of $699. "You get a top-of-the-line processor, a gorgeous display, 128GB of storage and 5G capability," says Ramirez.
Fitness trackers and smart watches. Amazon has been running strong deals on Fitbits (about $50 to $100 off). If you want an Apple Watch 5 (the newest model), you may get a discount of $50 to $100 if you catch a sale through Amazon or Best Buy, says Ramirez. Best Buy regularly has "Apple Shopping Events" for various Apple products, and Ramirez expects discounts to be particularly aggressive for Father's Day and Independence Day.
Wireless headphones. Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart usually offer the best deals on headphones. You may get discounts of $50 to $100 or more on Bose SoundSport and Beats by Dre Powerbeats3 headphones. For AirPods, look for discounts of about $20 to $40. And keep an eye on AT&T and Verizon, too. AT&T recently sold Apple Airpods Pro earbuds for $224 ($250 regular price)--the best deal Ramirez has seen--and you don't have to be a customer of AT&T's services to buy them.
Smart speakers. Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart have been selling Google Home and Amazon Echo smart speakers at prices near the lows they hit on Black Friday last year. The Echo Dot and Google Nest Mini have both dipped to $29 (both have a regular price of $50). "I think those prices will easily last through the summer," Ramirez says.
Luxe for Less
Investing in designer apparel and accessories instead of lower-quality fast fashion items pays off when you factor in cost-per-wear. And as summer moves along, high-end department and specialty stores will be looking to clear out spring and summer inventory that accumulated during pandemic-related store closures.
Shoppers can expect discounts starting at about 20% off on seasonal clothing, shoes, jewelry, belts and handbags at stores such as Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus Last Call and Lord & Taylor, says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert for RetailMeNot.com. Markdowns on affordable luxury brands, such as Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg and Michael Kors, should last throughout the summer and include "friends and family" sales as well as end-of-season clearances, she notes. If you're planning to shop online, be sure to sign up for e-mail sale alerts.
Online Consignment Shops
Also, look to luxury online consignment shops, such as Fashionphile.com, Rebag.com and TheRealReal.com, for deals on secondhand high-end clothing and accessories from the likes of Christian Dior, Hermès and Louis Vuitton. In addition to on-trend pieces, shoppers will find classic style staples that will last for years for a fraction of the retail price. For example, we spotted a pair of leather Yves Saint Laurent LouLou mule sandals, originally priced at $695 on YSL.com when new, listed in "very good condition" for $395 at TheRealReal.com (that's nearly 45% off).
Luxury brands, including smaller-scale designers and boutiques, may even turn to online consignment shops in the months ahead as a way to sell spring and summer items through an additional sales channel, says Karin Dillie, director of B2B and estates for TheRealReal.com. Otherwise, these brands risk being stuck with seasonal inventory they may not be able to sell in-store -- especially if brick-and-mortar locations continue to remain closed until further notice.
The pandemic boosted sales for the at-home fitness industry and led many retailers to lower prices on exercise equipment, while also driving traditional brick-and-mortar businesses such as Orangetheory and Planet Fitness to stream free or low-cost exercise classes. If you're building a home gym, here are six must-haves that won't bust your budget, recommended by Louis Ramirez, deals editor at products review site Tom's Guide. Note that some items may be temporarily out of stock.
See Also: 50 Ways to Save on Health Care
Xterra Fitness TR200 ($400). Want to conserve space? This folding treadmill features three incline settings for workout variety, a 5.5-inch blue backlit display that shows any of 12 preset programs, and a top speed of 10 miles per hour.
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5639 ($165). This no-frills rower features 12 levels of resistance and an LCD display that shows time and calories burned. It's small and doesn't make much noise, "so you can use it while watching TV," Ramirez says.
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905 ($179). You can customize the difficulty of your workout with the machine's eight levels of resistance. The digital monitor displays time, speed, calories and distance.
Marcy Upright Fan Bike ($350). The Peloton bike is a hot commodity, but its basic package costs $2,245. If you want something more affordable that's still high quality, this Marcy model can also give you an upper body workout thanks to its dual-action arms, which mimic the motions you'd make on an elliptical machine, says Ramirez.
CAP Barbell Coated Hex Dumbbells ($9 to $139 per 2-piece set, depending on weight). These dumbbells, which come in pairs (weighing from 5 to 120 pounds), feature ergonomic steel-chromed handles and a coating that protects them from damage.
Free Online Exercise Classes
If you need a little motivation to keep hitting your new gym, there are a handful of great free workouts that you can try through streaming services or wellness apps. To name a few: Nike Training Club's Premium subscription service (available on its mobile app), which offers more than 185 free workouts--including bodyweight, cardio, yoga and other classes--waived its $15 monthly fee indefinitely in March; Planet Fitness streams free 20-minute at-home workouts on its Facebook page; and 305 Fitness posts a free cardio class every day on its YouTube page.
Start a Podcast
When the cohosts of our personal finance show Your Money's Worth left the friendly confines of the studio to record at home, we discovered that it's easier than ever to produce professional-quality recordings from the dining room table, and the start-up cost is minimal.
We use the Samson Q2U Dynamic USB Microphone ($60 at Best Buy), which comes with a small tripod mike stand and plugs into your computer's USB port. To monitor the sound quality, Tascam TH-02 studio headphones will run you $20 on Amazon.
To record yourself and your estimable guests, consider signing up for an account at Zencastr.com. You send your guests a link, and all they'll need is a computer with a microphone. The site's free version usually limits podcasters to eight hours and two guests per month, but those restrictions are being waived during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Finally, sign up with a service that will host your podcast on its website and get your show listed with distributors. Some sites do this free but may limit the amount you can upload or insert ads. For $13.50 a month, Simplecast users get unlimited uploads and audio storage, a customizable show website, and distribution to all the major outlets.
Where are the real deals for shoppers? First, where they're not: in the new-car market. Dealers and manufacturers are pushing low (often zero) percentage rate financing rather than cash discounts in an effort to preserve profits when the market recovers.
See Also: The Safest Used Cars for $20,000 or Less
But used-car prices at the wholesale level saw double-digit declines in March, thanks to a flood of vehicles coming off lease, new-ish cars being dumped by rental firms that have lost business, and general coronavirus disruption. A good time to buy a used car should be, well, right about the time you're reading this, say market trackers at CarGurus, KBB and others, as that wholesale-price plunge works its way down to retail sales. Prices won't come down uniformly, and they will vary by market. But come down they should.
Finding the deals. A startup called CoPilot has a car-buying app that includes a feature called PricePulse, which forecasts prices. We asked CoPilot for vehicles that it predicts will see sharp price drops.
Sedans and luxury brands are among the categories with the greatest price weakness, so it makes sense that the Cadillac CT6, which checks both boxes, is a contender for hottest deal. Per CoPilot's data, listings for the 2020 CT6, one of the last of the big American sedans, were hovering around $59,000 in mid May. That was $10,000--or about 15%--below the price at the beginning of March. But prices have farther to fall: CoPilot forecasts another $5,000 drop, on average, by early July.
Five-figure discounts are pretty astonishing, though keen car watchers would note that the CT6 has been discontinued by General Motors and was never that popular to begin with. But there are deals to be had even on popular, commodity-like vehicles such as the Toyota Camry. In mid May, the average listing price of a 2017 model of this American-built sedan was $16,700, down 3% from where it had been in March. But more savings lie ahead, says CoPilot, which forecasts another 9% drop by July 1. That would mean (again, on average) paying $2,000 less than in March.
If you've had your eye on a luxury SUV, this is another segment where deals are in the offing. Take the Land Rover Range Rover, a vehicle which for decades has been the prestige standard (and the styling inspiration for the Ford Explorer and others down the pecking order). Models from 2017 were listing for less than $65,000 in mid May, a $4,000 (6%) drop from March, and prices were headed further south, to an estimated $55,000, per CoPilot.
More-plebian SUVs should still see declines. The 2017 Honda CR-V and Ford Escape charted an unexceptional 3% decline between March and May (not much ahead of depreciation), but CoPilot forecasts further 9% declines for both by July. Since both of these vehicles are far cheaper than the Range Rover, the dollar value of the savings is less eye-popping, but $1,500 to $2,000 is nothing to sniff at.
If you'd like to play around with prices for other models, download CoPilot or check it out online at www.copilotsearch.com. Notably, this tiny Chicago-based company says it doesn't sell customer leads to car dealers.
Giving to charity isn't a "deal" in the traditional sense, unless you really need a calendar or a tote bag. But this year, Congress has given you more incentive to donate. The CARES Act will allow taxpayers who take the standard deduction to claim a $300 above-the-line deduction on their 2020 income tax return. (Usually, only taxpayers who itemize deductions can claim a break for charitable donations.) Donations to donor-advised funds and certain organizations that support charities aren't eligible for this deduction.
If you would like to contribute to a coronavirus-related charity, Charity Navigator has a list of charities that support first responders, educational efforts and community services in areas that have been hard-hit by the pandemic. Find it at www.charitynavigator.org.
Sandra Block, Daniel Bortz, Ryan Ermey, Lisa Gerstner, Nellie S. Huang, David Muhlbaum and Andrea Browne Taylor contributed to this article.
See Also: Donate to Charity and Cut Your Tax Bill
Copyright 2020 The Kiplinger Washington Editors