Well, it happened - again. The 10-year Treasury fell all the way to 2.3% last week on a string of bad geopolitical news and mixed economic data. The last time yields were this low was June of last year, in the early stages of the "Taper Tantrum."
Could yields continue to go lower? Sure, they could. But it doesn't matter. If you are an income investor with more than a five year horizon, you should be looking outside of the bond market for your income needs given the pitifully low yields on offer. And one area that still looks attractive at today's prices is the world of dividend ETFs.
Company dividends - unlike bond interest - generally rise over time, giving dividend stocks far better long-term inflation protection than bonds.
Not all dividend stocks are the same; some are slow-growth dinosaurs that are little better than bonds with respect to their sensitivity to rising interest rates. Others are high-growth dynamos that share their bounty with their investors by continually raising their dividend. And in the same way, not all dividend ETFs are the same. Some are concentrated in slower-growth companies and sectors, while others are a who's who list of quality growth stocks.
I don't like choosing between growth and income; I want both. And today, I'm going to share some of my favorite dividend ETFs that I expect to deliver the two.
High Dividend Yield
Any discussion of dividend ETFs should start with the granddaddy of them all, the iShares Select Dividend ETF (NYSEARCA:DVY).
DVY's underlying index takes the universe of dividend-paying stocks with a positive dividend-per-share growth rate, a payout ratio of 60 percent or less, and at least a five year track record of dividend payment and then selects the 100 highest-yielding stocks. The result is an ETF loaded with high-yielding, reliable dividend payers.
Not surprisingly, DVY is heavily weighted in utilities and defensive consumer staples, currently 34 percent and 16 percent of the portfolio, respectively. The current dividend yield is 3.1%-significantly higher than what the 10-year Treasury pays.
As it is currently constructed, DVY is not likely to outperform the S&P 500 in a normal, rising market. It should, however, hold up far better during a market rout-though this was not the case during the last bear market. DVY took a beating in 2008 because it had a high allocation to the financial sector at the time.
DVY is fine for current income. But if it is growth you seek, try shares of the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (NYSEARCA:VIG)-a long-time favorite of mine. At 2.0 percent, VIG's yield is not significantly higher than the S&P 500. But you don't buy VIG for its dividend today; you buy it for its dividend tomorrow
VIG is based on the Dividend Achievers Select Index, which requires its constituents to have at least 10 consecutive years of rising dividends. The rationale is easy enough to understand. There is no signal more powerful than that of a rising dividend. Company boards hate parting with their cash; it's a natural human instinct to stockpile it-just in case. A willingness to part with the cash is a signal that management sees a lot more of it coming.
Paying a dividend requires discipline, as it means less cash to waste on value-destroying empire building. And a rising dividend also shows that management knows its place. They work for you, the shareholder, and increasing your dividend every year is a way of showing that they have their priorities straight.
By definition, any stock currently in the portfolio continued to raise its dividend even during the crisis years of 2008 and 2009. These are companies that can survive Armageddon because, frankly, they already have.
There are drawbacks to VIG's 10-year screening criteria. A more recent dividend-raising powerhouse like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) lacks the history to be included in the Vanguard ETF. Also, as with any investment strategy that depends on historical data, there is no guarantee that a ten-year streak of raising dividends in the past will mean another good ten years of increased payouts going forward.
Still, if you're looking for a portfolio high-quality stocks with a long history of rewarding shareholders, then VIG's dividend growth methodology is a fine plan place to start.
VIG is not the only ETF to focus on dividend growth, of course. PowerShares runs two competing products. The PowerShares Dividend Achievers ETF (NYSEARCA:PFM) is based on the same underlying index as VIG, though its fees are higher-0.55% vs. 0.10%. It's hard to justify losing almost half a percent a year in additional fees for what is substantially the same investment product.
The PowerShares High Yield Equity Dividend Achievers ETF (NYSEARCA:PEY) offers a smaller, higher-yielding slice of the dividend achievers universe, taking only the 50 highest-yielding stocks from the dividend achievers screen. Though also more expensive than VIG with an expense ratio of 0.55%, it pays a higher yield at 3.4%.
And finally, Standard & Poor's has its own competing dividend growth strategy called the Dividend Aristocrats, which goes even further than the Dividend Achievers. The S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats Index measures the performance of the companies within the S&P 500 that have increased their dividends every year for the last twenty five or more consecutive years.
The SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (NYSEARCA:SDY) is an ETF that builds a portfolio out of the 50 highest-yielding Aristocrats.
So, if I love the 10-year Achiever screen, I should really love the 25-year Aristocrat screen, right?
Well, in principal, yes. Though in practice, I find it to be a little too restricting. Limiting your pool of stocks to companies that have raised their dividend for 25 consecutive years leaves you with a portfolio of older, slower-growing stocks.
Don't get me wrong; there are some real gems in SDY's portfolio, including long-time favorites of mine National Retail Properties (NYSE:NNN), Target Corp (NYSE:TGT) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). But overall, in SDY, you are left with a defensive portfolio that I would expect to lag during a normal bull market.
Combing Dividend Investing With Guru Following Strategies
DIVI is managed by Thomas Howard, a former academic turned money manager superstar and the author of Behavioral Portfolio Management. It is also very different from all other dividend ETFs I follow. Virtually uniquely among dividend ETFs, DIVI includes equity REITs, mortgage REITs, master limited partnerships (MLPs), closed-end funds and business development companies (BDCs) in its investment universe, giving it a vastly different portfolio composition than its competitors.
Also uniquely among dividend ETF, DIVI employs a guru-following strategy that makes it similar in principle to Global X Top Guru Holdings Index ETF (NYSEARCA:GURU) and the AlphaClone Alternative Alpha ETF (NYSEARCA:ALFA), but with a more active management style. DIVI uses Howard's behavioral research to identify the "high conviction" picks of active mutual fund managers, then selects high-dividend payers from the screen. DIVI then diversifies across sector, strategy and country to reduce risk.
DIVI is a little on the expensive side for a dividend ETF with a net expense ratio of 0.99%. But given that DIVI is essentially an actively-managed mutual fund in an ETF wrapper, the expenses are not disproportionate.
Of course, no discussion of a dividend ETF is complete without a mention of the dividend yield. DIVI has been trading for less than a month and thus has no historical dividend yield. Based on the average yield of its top holdings, minus manager fees and expenses, I believe that it will generate in excess of 5% per year in dividends and perhaps more.
This article first appeared on InvestorPlace.
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