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By Matt Doiron

A rise in interest rates over the past few weeks- and speculation that they will rise further if the Federal Reserve does in fact "taper" its expansionary monetary policy towards the end of this year- has recently proven somewhat troublesome for many dividend stocks. A number of yield plays have fallen in price, helped along by sizable short communities at some of these companies. Here are the five stocks which have at least 10% of their outstanding shares held short and which currently pay dividend yields of 3% or higher (and have a market cap of at least $1 billion) which have fallen the most in the last 3 months, using data from Fidelity:

Ryman Hospitality Properties (NYSE:RHP) leads our list, with a roughly 20% decline in price over this time period. Ryman pays an annual yield of 5.5%, assuming quarterly payments of 50 cents per share, but the business is in trouble. Revenue at the company- which operates both a set of hotel and convention centers, and several Nashville-area attractions- was down 7% in the first quarter of 2013 versus a year earlier. Close to 20% of the outstanding shares are held short. We track quarterly 13F filings from hundreds of hedge funds as part of our work developing investment strategies (we have found, for example, that the most popular small cap stocks among hedge funds earn an average excess return of 18 percentage points per year) and can see from our database that billionaire John Paulson's Paulson & Co. owned 2.2 million shares of Ryman as of the end of March (find Paulson's favorite stocks).

Another high yield stock which short sellers have been targeting recently is $1.8 billion market cap Mid-Atlantic regional bank Valley National Bancorp (NYSE:VLY). 11% of the total share outstanding are held by short sellers, while Valley's quarterly dividend payments of 16.3 cents per share make for an annualized yield of over 7%. Revenue and earnings were down somewhat in the first quarter of 2013 versus a year earlier, and this may have contributed to the stock's 15% slide over the last few months. In value terms the forward P/E is 15, which could well prove high if net income continues to decline.

With demand for iron ore and metallurgical coal remaining weak, producer Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE:CLF) is down 11% over this period and down over 60% in the last year. Earnings fell 72% last quarter compared to the first quarter of 2012, mostly due to lower margins but also with contributions from a 6% fall in sales. At least for now, quarterly dividend payments are 15 cents per share implying an annual yield of 3.4% at these prices. SAC Capital Advisors, managed by billionaire Steve Cohen, owned 3.5 million shares according to the fund's most recent 13F (find Cohen's favorite stocks).

Digital Realty Trust (NYSE:DLR) is another stock meeting our criteria here, as short sellers are responsible for 17% of the outstanding shares and the current dividend yield is over 5%. Digital Realty Trust is a real estate investment trust, and according to IRS rules it receives favorable tax status conditional on distributing a large share of its taxable income to shareholders. The company focuses on acquiring and developing real estate which hosts tenants from the technology sector. Digital Realty's stock price is down 10% in the last three months; we'd note that it has fairly consistently increased its dividend since 2004.

Rounding out our list of dividend stocks being hit hard by short sellers is telecom Windstream (NASDAQ:WIN). Currently Windstream makes quarterly dividend payments of 25 cents per share, so its present yield is 12%; markets seem to be expecting the company to cut its dividend, and in fact the company's earnings do not seem to be able to keep up with payments. Net income has been falling as well. Currently we see 12% of the company's outstanding shares held short- those short sellers must be looking for quite a steep cut in dividends to be enough to make Windstream not a respectable income stock.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

Business relationship disclosure: This article is written by Insider Monkey's writer, Matt Doiron, and edited by Meena Krishnamsetty. They don't have any business relationships with any of the companies mentioned in this article and they didn't receive compensation (other than from Insider Monkey and Seeking Alpha) to write this article.

Source: 5 Dividend Stocks Being Targeted By Short Sellers