Granny’s stocks, widows and orphans stocks, call them what you want. The quest for yield in the face of unprecedented global monetary policies has driven investors of many stripes into multinational consumer equities offering generous dividends.

As populations age across the world, it’s only natural that more investors, especially retirees, are searching for income wherever they can find it. Paltry yields on intermediate government and corporate bonds have even prompted some to proclaim that these stocks might as well be the new bonds.

The mutual fund and ETF industries have responded by rolling out all sorts of vehicles, from equity-income funds to dividend-paying ETFs to low-volatility products. While the names may vary, many of these vehicles own the same identical stocks. Some fear that these equities, which can be found in most mutual funds, index funds, corporate pensions and many of the 75 million 401(k) accounts, are so widely held that a rise in interest rates could cause expected instability in the bond market to infect blue-chip stocks, too.

At a “Women In ETFs” breakfast in late January, Mary Ann Bartels, the chief investment officer in charge of global portfolio solutions at Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, described how she began her typical day—arriving early in the morning and fielding phone calls from European investors looking for high-quality, dividend-paying U.S. equities. Right at that specific time, European investors clearly were trying to profit from the surging dollar.

Less than two months later in late March, the popular Reggie Browne of Cantor Fitzgerald appeared on CNBC on a Friday afternoon to explain the day’s selloff in U.S. equities by noting that American investors, worried about high-priced domestic equities, were selling them to go bargain hunting in Europe.

Neither Bartels’ nor Browne’s observations might seem particularly consequential except that in late March on a Friday, yours truly had lunched with two disciples of the legendary Jean-Marie Eveillard, Charles de Vaulx and Charles de Lardemelle of International Value Advisors. The two Frenchmen, who had closed all their funds to new investors several years ago, had some news for Americans looking for deals in Europe.

Various European indexes might look cheap, they said, particularly those overweighted with heavily regulated, quasi-government-controlled concerns like banks. But investors had already driven up the prices of high-quality European equities beyond levels that met their traditional margin of safety.

Take Nestle, the world’s largest food company, one of the few in its industry still displaying unit volume growth in an era when many European and U.S. food producers are losing share to organic products. De Vaulx and de Lardemelle say Nestle is a great company that they continue to hold in their portfolios. But with shares selling at these levels—17 times Ebitda, up from 8 times in the late 1990s, when there truly was a stock market bubble—they are not buying any more. The fact that Nestle is selling for double what it did during the greatest bubble of the latest hundred years underscores how pandemic the search for yield is today.

Advisors might be forgiven for chalking up the IVA team’s attitude to their strict adherence to a value discipline. But it’s not just value fundamentalists.

Legendary growth-at-a-reasonable-price investor Donald Yacktman of Yacktman Funds has often relied on companies that dominate supermarket and drugstore aisles for impressive returns. For the last 15 years of this century, Yacktman Focused Fund has delivered annual returns of nearly 13% a year, versus about 5% a year for the S&P 500 with a beta of 0.82. That means investors in the index approximately doubled their money in 15 years while those in Yacktman’s fund saw their money increase nearly sixfold.

When interviewed on a panel last November, he listed three of his largest holdings at the time as Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Procter & Gamble. He voiced frustration with his ability to find value anywhere in the U.S. while noting these consumer goods companies at least bring stability to a portfolio.

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