Interest rates are near zero. Savings accounts pay next to nothing. 10-Year Treasury yields are at their lowest level since 1956 -- when Dwight Eisenhower was president.
And the average yield for all stocks in the S&P 500 is just 2%. That makes us one of the lowest-yielding markets in the world.
But compare that to what I'm seeing in international markets.
And remember, these figures are just the averages, weighed down by large numbers of stocks that don't yield a cent.
I've been telling readers this for months... The simple fact is that when you start looking abroad, high yielders are practically a dime a dozen in comparison to the United States.
As Judy Sarayan, a fund manager at mega-investment firm Eaton Vance explained, "There's a much stronger dividend culture abroad... Individual investors play a larger role in those markets, and they have always demanded more dividends."
That difference is more dramatic when you start looking at some individual examples of higher yields abroad.
Take banks, for instance. Here in the U.S., Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) used to pay investors $2.56 per share before the financial crisis. That represented a yield of more than 6%.
Of course, we all know what happened next. Today, BAC pays a laughable $0.01 (yes, one penny) each quarter, leading to a paltry yield of 0.3%.
But it's a completely different story outside the United States.
Take, for example, London-based HSBC Holdings (NYSE: HSBC). I recently profiled this international banking giant for my High-Yield International readers, and I think it's a perfect example of the kinds of safe dividend payers most U.S. investors either haven't heard of or ignore altogether.
This global juggernaut is one of the largest banks in the world, with more than 8,000 offices in 87 countries, and it has a market cap of more than $200 billion.
As with other global banks, HSBC has had its fair share of problems coming out of the financial crisis.
The company's foray into the U.S. subprime market was an unmitigated disaster, leading to billions in losses. More recently, HSBC agreed to pay U.S. regulators a $1.92 billion fine for failing to prevent the bank from being used to launder money.
But HSBC has used its string of missteps to tighten internal controls, shed underperforming portfolios and divisions, increase capital reserves and reduce expenses. That has left HSBC with the strongest financial and operating profile in years.
Revenue for 2013 was up 3% from 2012 to a record $63 billion. Its 2013 full-year profit of $23 billion was up 9%.
It also raised its regular quarterly dividend by 9% to $0.50 per share. Also keep in mind that the company also pays a higher dividend in March of every year. In fact, HSBC has already paid its dividend for the first quarter of 2014 -- to $0.95 this year compared to $0.90 in 2013. This makes HSBC one of the highest yielding stocks on the FTSE 100, a list of the 100 largest companies that trade on the London Stock Exchange.
It also gives the stock a trailing yield of 4.7% -- offering a dividend yield that's 15 times higher than Bank of America's.
Looking forward, I expect more of the same from HSBC.
Since emerging from the financial crisis, HSBC has cut costs by a total of $5 billion since 2011. Looking forward, HSBC is targeting annual costs savings to expand to $2-$3 billion in the next few years.
A stronger balance sheet and lower expenses has freed up cash that HSBC is redirecting into high-growth emerging markets, particularly the Asia-Pacific region and China.
Even though China's annual GDP growth has slowed from the heady days of 12% before the financial crash, the World Bank still expects the leading emerging market to expand 7.7% in 2014.
That's a big premium to the United States' projected growth of 2.5% and the eurozone's 1%. The World Bank also expects East Asia to account for 40% of the world's total economic growth.
But China and East Asia are still hugely under-banked. And with HSBC already operating as the largest bank in Hong Kong, there's tremendous opportunity for growth.
I've laid out the reasons why I'm bullish on banks to readers of High-Yield International, my premium investment advisory. And HSBC is one of the best. But in spite of its great year and long-term potential, shares are undervalued. HSBC should deliver earnings of $5.00 per share in 2014. That gives the stock a forward P/E just less than 10, a steep discount to its global banking peers and the market.
As long as shares are below $60, I consider HSBC a "buy".
With a trailing yield of 4.7% and a bullish outlook, I consider HSBC a much better option for income investors than Bank of America, which is yielding just 0.3%. It just goes to show that when it comes to income investing, you don't have to settle for the below average yields offered by American equities.
There are dozens of other foreign blue chips that are paying much higher yields than their U.S. counterparts. And many of them pay even higher yields than HSBC. Better yet, most of them trade at more attractive valuations than U.S. stocks.
The bottom line is that if you're looking for higher yields, then it's time to start looking at foreign markets.
Consider this... Out of 118 companies that pay dividend yields over 12%, 93 of them are located outside the U.S. To see the list of these high-yield stocks, or to learn more about investing in international dividend payers, follow this link.