The fixed-income picture is pretty gruesome when it comes to yield, which isn't doing people's portfolios—particularly retirement portfolios—any favors. But there are plenty of yield alternatives beyond fixed income that can buoy investor portfolios and spirits. And some of them aren't the usual suspects.

Global real estate. Tech stocks. Master-limited partnerships. Emerging markets. And of course, traditional high-dividend paying stocks. These were the top picks for dividend yield from a panel of money managers today at the IndexUniverse Inside ETFs conference in Hollywood, Fla.

But first, the panel succinctly summarized the grim facts facing investors seeking yield through the U.S. fixed-income market. Jeremy Held, research director at ETF provider ALPS, noted that inflation seems benign because the consumer price index is at its lowest level in a half-century or so. But he warned that some fixed-income instruments simply aren't keeping pace with inflation.

"The actual real yield is below zero," he said. "We haven't had a sustained negative real rate of return environment like this since the 1940s. And during the decade of the '40s, investors lost half of their purchasing power."

We're not there yet, he explained, but he thinks the future is worrisome considering that so many central banks around the world are printing money to boost economic growth—money that's looking for places to go and driving up asset prices and fueling inflation.

The Solution? Equities.

"For the first time in generations, investors are looking to equities not for growth, diversification or total return, but for income," said Held, who then provided three equity income asset classes he feels offer the best total return potential and attractive income yield relative to fixed income.

First, there is global real estate. "It's probably the most under-invested asset class on the planet," Held said. He noted that more than 60 percent of all property stocks are overseas, yet more than 90 percent of ETF real estate assets are in domestic-only REIT funds.

"Global real estate offers higher yield than domestic real estate while offering growth and diversification," Held said. "It's a way to generate income and total returns."

Held's second income-producing idea centers on high-yield dividend stocks. "You can get high-dividend stocks paying yields of 4 percent," he said. "Sixty percent of the S&P 500 yields more than 10-year Treasuries."