In a zero-interest environment, what are safe (conservative) alternatives for income?
Dividends. There are blue chip companies that have paid and raised their dividends for 20 or more years. As an example: Altria (MO). There are also ETFs that specialize in such stocks such as SDY.
anything that produces steady income will produce a "real return" (return above inflation) in a zero-interest rate environment:
- rental property (or ownership through REITs)
- dividend producing stock
- preferred stock
Note, however, that all of these will decline in value if interest rates rise.