Yield vs Total return

Yield refers to income earned on an investment, while its return refers to what an investor gained or lost on that investment.
Yield vs Total return<br><br>
3 min

Yield represents the earnings generated by an investment over a specific period, typically expressed as a percentage. Return, on the other hand, indicates the overall profit or loss of an investment over time, measured by the change in its dollar value. Yield is prospective, while return is retrospective in nature.

More often than not, yield and total return are used interchangeably. Typically, these terms refer to what an investor will make from a fixed investment like bonds. But it is important to remember that these two terms constitute different meanings. All investors, especially those who have put their money in bonds, should learn about yield and total return to make informed decisions regarding their wealth.

In this article, we will learn what yield and total return mean, alongside their various differences.

What is yield?

Simply put, yield is the return on the investment. Dividends or interests come under this category, which are derived from a security. Often, these are conveyed via an yearly percentage figure derived from the cost of investment and its prevailing market or face value.

In essence, yield tells you how much income the investment has provided without considering the principal. However, in some cases, this might not be necessarily true. For instance, CEF (closed-end funds) will utilise the returns from the investor’s principal to maintain the distributions at intended levels. CEF investors should be cognisant of whether their funds are involved in such practices and their possible consequences.

Usually, investors determined on yield seek to retain the principal and want this principal to produce income. Growth is typically viewed as an ancillary consideration of investment, particularly for fixed-income instruments such as bonds, CDs, and depository accounts.

Stocks that pay dividends have become popular for their yields on corporate earnings, which in several instances are more than a regular fixed-income investment.

What is the total return?

Interest, dividends, capital gains, and distributions that are realised over a period are known as total return. Simply put, an investment or portfolio’s total return comprises income as well as appreciation.

Total return could take into account the dividend-adjusted return as well. This dividend-adjusted return is computed by investors by adding the dividend total received while they held the company stock to the amount they earned when they sold the stock.

Unlike investors seeking yield, total return investors prioritise portfolio growth. They take distributions when required from the amalgamation of the income generated from the yield on multiple holdings and the value appreciation of specific assets. While total return investors do not want to see their portfolio’s overall value decrease, capital preservation is not their primary investment goal.

Yield vs Total return - What is the difference?

Now that we have understood the meaning of yield and total return, it is now evident why some may use these terms interchangeably (erroneously so). In this section, we will discuss various distinctions between total return and yield to strengthen your basics.

  • While yield represents the income generated on the investment, total return refers to what an investor has gained or lost on a particular investment.
  • A percentage figure is used to express yield, while the return is provided in rupees.
  • A yield is a forward-looking assessment and indicates what an investor can gain or lose on an investment. A yield considers the current market and face value but does not weigh capital gains. Its percentage is often expressed with an APR (annual percentage rate). And as it rings true for any investment, the riskier the asset, the higher will be the potential yield.
  • On the other hand, the total return on an investment is focused on the rupee amount of what an investment has previously earned. It emphasises on paid dividends, yearly payments made to investors by the organisation. Plus, it factors in the capital gains (short-term and long-term) which enhances the asset’s value.
  • Remember that yield is not the same as the rate of return. Both are expressed in percentages and predict the investment’s return over a period of time. However, the yield does not consider capital gains like the rate of return does.

Yield vs Total returns with example

Let’s understand how yield and total returns work with an example.

Suppose ‘XYZ’ company pays its shareholders a quarterly dividend of Rs. 2 and the stock price is Rs. 100, and the annual dividend is expressed as 8%. If the stock price doubles to Rs. 200, and if the dividend remains unchanged, then the yield is reduced to 4%.

Assume you have invested Rs. 1,000 in ABC company’s stock. The stock price soars and is currently worth Rs. 1,200. In the same year, you also receive an annual dividend of Rs. 100. This means that you have made gains of Rs. 300 (total) on your investment, i.e., a total return of 30%.

Which is better - Yield or Total return?

If you are expecting your investments to generate regular income, then yield-oriented stocks are a good place to start. However, if you emphasise long-term investment growth and are going to actively invest in capital markets for a substantial period, then it is wise to choose stocks that have the potential to provide lucrative total returns.

Key takeaways

  • Yield is referred to as the income return on an investment, which is dividends or interest received and is expressed in the form of an annual percentage depending on the cost of investment and its current market or face value.
  • Dividends, interest, capital gains, and distributions realised in a period of time is known as a total return.
  • Investors who emphasise on yield are usually interested in making an income and are less inclined to growth. Therefore, they might put their funds in investments like bonds and CDs.
  • Investors who focus on total returns are more concerned with the growth of their portfolios and other related investments.


It is important to understand the differences between yield and total returns as they are a part of two distinctive financial approaches. While yield is all about receiving consistent income, total returns are about long-term growth. Your decision to invest in yield-based or return-based investment should be based on your financial circumstances and future fiscal goals. The good part is that you do not have to be conservative in your approach and invest in both to generate income and amplify growth. If you are unsure what path suits you the best, consider seeking the assistance of a financial advisor who could guide you with a customised investment plan.

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Frequently asked questions

Is yield the same as total return?
No. Yield and total returns are not the same. A yield is the income return one receives on an investment and is usually expressed as an annual percentage. On the other hand, total return constitutes the amount that is gained or lost on an asset over a period and is expressed in rupees.
What is the difference between distribution yield and total return?
Total returns consider dividends, interest, capital gains, and positive movement in stock prices, whereas dividend yields only consider the actual cash dividends.
What is the difference between yield and rate of return?
While the yield and rate of return are expressed in percentages and anticipate the performance of the investment’s return over time, they are not the same. The biggest distinction between the two is that the rate of return factors in capital gains and yield excludes it.
Does higher yield mean a higher return?
Increasing yields can lead to capital losses in the short term. However, they can result in higher returns in the future.
What is the difference between total return and dividend yield?
Dividend yields only factor in cash dividends, while total returns consider dividends, interest, capital gains, and rise in share prices.
Is Yield to Maturity the same as total return?
Yield to Maturity (YTM) is, in essence, the total return that is expected on a bond if it is held until its maturity.
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The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute any financial advice. The content herein has been prepared by BFL on the basis of publicly available information, internal sources and other third-party sources believed to be reliable. However, BFL cannot guarantee the accuracy of such information, assure its completeness, or warrant such information will not be changed. 

This information should not be relied upon as the sole basis for any investment decisions. Hence, User is advised to independently exercise diligence by verifying complete information, including by consulting independent financial experts, if any, and the investor shall be the sole owner of the decision taken, if any, about suitability of the same.