Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF seeks to track the performance of a benchmark index that measures the investment return of common stocks of companies that are characterized by high dividend yields.
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According to S&P Dow Jones, 1,078 companies boosted dividends in Q1, 14.2% more than a year ago, and besting the previous record of 1.069 set in 1979. The dollar amount of increases foots to $17.8B, 22.9% higher than a year ago. A few cut payouts - 102 out of roughly 10K traded issues, and down from 139 a year ago.
The weighted dividend yield grew 4 basis points during the quarter to 2.48%, says S&P's Howard Silverblatt. Room to grow even more? Payout ratios continue to scrape by at 36% vs. their historic average of 52%.
The First Trust Value Line Dividend Index ETF (FVD +0.2%) has done its job well, writes Morningstar's Abby Woodham, but the 70 basis point expense ratio is "a relic of the days before the ETF price wars." It may have been acceptable a decade ago, but is "unjustifiable" when similar ETFs are available for just a handful of basis points per year.
FVD's portfolio looks like a low-vol strategy that emphasizes yield, she writes, and the 5-year standard deviation is one of the lowest among dividend ETFs.
Possible alternatives: Vanguard Dividend Appreciation (VIG +0.1%) with 0.10% expenses, Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index (VYM -0.1%) also charging 10 bps, Schwab U.S. Dividend Equity ETF (SCHD +0.1%) - the cheapest in the category at 0.07% - SPDR S&P Dividend (SDY +0.1%) with 0.35% expenses, WisdomTree Equity Income (DHS) with 0.38% expenses, and iShares Select Dividend (DVY +0.3%) charging 0.40%.
The First Trust RBA Quality Income ETF (QINC) and RBA American Industrial Renaissance ETF (AIRR) will track their respective Richard Bernstein Advisors indexes; QINC will focus on total return through global firms with strong dividends and capital appreciation potential, while AIRR will invest in both small and mid-cap domestic firms in the industrial and community banking sectors.
The Global X Guru Small Cap Index ETF (GURX) and Guru International Index ETF (GURI) are hoping to capitalize on the success of GURU by offering exposure to small-cap and international (respectively) stocks that large hedge fund managers hold.
Comparing metrics for the two of the more popular dividend strategies - the SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY +0.4%) and the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG +0.7%) - against the two largest large-cap value ETFs - the Russell 1000 Value ETF (IWD +0.9%) and Vanguard's Value ETF (VTV +0.7%) - Larry Swedroe finds valuations quite stretched for the dividend players.
The SDY sports a P/E ratio of 17.2x, price/book ratio of 2.5x, and price/cash flow ratio of 10.5x, with the VIG showing similar. The value ETFs have P/E below 14x, price/books below 2x, and price/cash flow below 6x.
The popularity of dividends has led to a pleasing rise in the values of the stocks, but has thus reduced expected future returns, reminds Swedroe. And for taxable accounts, it's even worse as dividends are less tax-efficient than capital gains.
Ranking about dead last a year ago in Barron's handicapping of where to go for yield, municipal bonds climb nearly to the top for 2014. Long-term issues yield 4.5-5%, towering over the 30-year Treasury at 3.8% ... and don't forget the tax exemption. Credit worries are high, but the "real news is that the credit profile of local governments throughout the U.S. will improve as property valuations rise, local sales and income-taxes increase, and major reform of public employee pension plans accelerates," says John Loffredo, co-manager of the MacKay Shields Municipal High Yield Fund.
Topping the list are the best performers from last year: dividend stocks. Even after a big rally, plenty of blue chips yield more than the 10-year Treasury and payouts are still low, says S&P's Howard Silverblatt, who sees a double-digit rise in cash payouts this year.
Near the bottom of the list this year after a big move in 2013 are MLPs, which trade for nearly twice the valuation of utilities and telecom, based on Enterprise Value/EBITDA. Yields are tasty at 5.5%, but many MLPs barely cover their payouts - a contrast to the vast majority of dividend-paying corporations. Stick with MLPs comfortably covering their distributions like EPD and PAA.
Q4 net dividend increases of $12.7B compared to $8.4B in 2012 Q4, according to S&P. The number of increases (885), however, pales in comparison to the 1,266 "tax-incentivized" hikes from a year ago (there were 649 in 2011).
Of roughly 10K traded stocks, 51 companies cut payouts in Q4 compared to 154 in the year-earlier quarter.
Room for more hikes? S&P's Howard Silverblatt notes payout rates - which historically average 52% - continue to remain near their low of 36%. "At this point, we expect Q1 to be a very busy positive period for dividends, with 2014 setting another record for payments."
The weighted dividend yield off 2.44% compares to 2.6% in Q3 and 2.8% in Q4 of 2012 as boosted payouts aren't quite keeping pace with the strong advance in equity prices.
The First Trust High Income ETF (FTHI) and Low Beta Income ETF (FTLB) will use index options as a complement to its equity holdings.
The Nasdaq Rising Dividend Achievers ETF (RDVY) tracks an index of 50 companies with a history of raising payouts, and "that exhibit the characteristics to potentially continue doing so in the future."
Nasdaq indices are used in a number of well-followed dividend ETFs such as PowerShares' High Yield Dividend Achievers Portfolio (PEY) and PowerShares' Dividend Achievers Portfolio (PFM).
For its part, FirstTrust's other dividend ETFs include the Nasdaq Technology Index Fund (TDIV) and the Value Line Dividend Index Fund (FVD).
In the battle for investor dollars among dividend ETFs, Vanguard's Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG) has soared past iShares' Select Dividend ETF (DVY) and SSgA's SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY) on both an absolute basis and a s a percentage of AUM.
The lesser-known Global X SuperDividend ETF (SDIV) has nearly doubled its AUM this year and - at less than 3 years old - is knocking on the door of $1B in assets despite inconsistent performance. Investors desire for income is certainly a boost as is the fund's equal-weighting approach and monthly payout - which fluctuated wildly in 2012, but has settled into a tight range this year.
Dividend ETF fans may soon have three more funds to choose from as Reality Shares files to launch a trio of ETFs. Tickers and fees have not yet been disclosed.
The Reality Shares Isolated U.S. Dividend Growth Index ETF and The Isolated Global Dividend Growth Index ETF will both be passive strategies, and the Isolated Dividend Growth ETF will be actively managed.
The company's edge - so it argues - will be a focus on earnings rather than stock price as the measure of potential returns. Isolating the dividend from the stock price can provide positive returns not directly correlated to broader equity or fixed-income trends, says the company.
Assets in dividend-themed ETFs have ballooned nearly 50% to $80B this year, according to Ned Davis Research, led by Vanguard Dividend Appreciation (VIG) with $3.2B in inflows, the SPDR Dividend ETF (SDY) with $1.2B, and the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM) with $1.6B.
Meanwhile, ETFs holding U.S. government debt hold just $67B in assets, with funds like the iShares 3-7 Year Treasury Bond ETF (IEI) seeing several hundred million exit, and the iShares TIPS Bond ETF (TIP) losing a whopping $6.9B.
The team at Ned Davis recommends looking away from the popular dividend plays and towards a lagging emerging-market alternative, the WisdomTree Emerging Markets Small-Cap Dividend Fund (DGS), yielding 3.3% and up 3.8% this year.
Dividend stocks have historically worked because of their value tilt, says ace researcher and portfolio manager Mebane Faber. A rash of fund offerings have distorted the asset class though - typically trading at a 20-40% valuation discount to the broad market, high yielders from defensive sectors are now at premiums, and record premiums at that. Buyer beware.
Faber himself runs the actively-managed Cambria Shareholder Yield ETF (SYLD), which adds buybacks and debt repayments to dividends to create a "shareholder yield" from which selections are made.
ETFs which have expanded their view of "yield" to include shareholder-friendly activity such as buybacks and paying down debt continue to outperform the general dividend universe as well as the broader market.
Mebane Faber's 5-month old $122M Cambria Shareholder Yield ETF (SYLD) has a forward dividend yield of 2.9% - slightly higher than VIG or SDY, and a bit less than DVY - but what Faber calls "a net buyback yield" of 5.6%. It's up 9.2% in its short history vs. 2% or less for the other funds and 3% for the S&P 500.
TrimTabs' Float Shrink ETF (TTFS) goes even further - disregarding dividends entirely to pick 100 of the Russell 3000 companies rapidly reducing outstanding shares while also screening for profitability and low debt. And reducing shares doesn't just mean buybacks: Carl Icahn's Herbalife investment put more than 15% of the stock outside of the free float according to TTFS' managers, thus allowing its inclusion in the fund. Sirius XM Radio was added after Liberty Media's decision to convert its preferred stake into common. The fund's nimbleness makes it pricey with a 0.99% expense ratio. It's ahead of the S&P 500 by more than 1000 bps YTD.
See also: PowerShares' Buyback Achievers Fund (PKW), the oldest and largest of the group, and ahead of the S&P by 1300 basis points this year.
RevenueShares launches for trade today the Ultra Dividend Fund (RDIV). The fund seeks to outperform the S&P 900 (combined S&P 500 and S&P 400) by picking 60 securities with the highest average quarterly dividend yields over the previous 12 months and then re-weighting according to company revenue. The expense ratio is 0.49%.