The recent selloff in dividend stocks represents a buying opportunity, says dividend fund manager Judith Saryan. She's expecting an eventual hike in the dividend tax rate, but to levels far below those for ordinary income. For now, she's steering clear of "frothy" utilities (XLU) and consumer staples (XLP), and looking more to dividend "growth" rather than "yield." Top picks: SNY, LYB, WFC, QCOM.
"An attempt to quantify ... a qualitative process," is how Morningstar's Josh Peters describes the creation of the Dividend Yield Focus Index. Most dividend indexes, he says, are entirely backward looking. Instead, Peters looks for an economic moat to protect against a dividend ever being cut. Thus far, it's working: The ETF benchmarked to the index (HDV) is outperforming DVY by a wide margin since the April 2011 launch.
Following up on research showing little correlation between dividend tax rates and equity returns, Miller Tabak's Andrew Wilkinson suggests selling recently-fattened puts on dividend stocks. "To think that investors will collectively dump dividend-paying stocks into the end of the year in hopes of making a tax savings seems a little fanciful."
"The market environment is more important than the tax environment," says WisdomTree's Jeremy Schwartz, brushing off concern about a probable hike in the dividend tax rate in 2013 by pointing out the large amount of these assets held in tax-insensitive accounts. Sam Stovall, however, notes the S&P's highest yielding sectors have been the worst performers since the end of September.
Dividend investing has gotten to be a crowded space as a more than doubling in AUM since the end of 2008 has been met with a monthly average of 2 new funds (mutual and exchange-traded) being launched. Of 53 mutual funds screened by Barron's with $100M+ in assets and a 3-year track record, 29 have yields less than the 2.1% provided by the S&P 500.
Some areas of the dividend universe (telecom, utilities) may be pricey, but dividend stocks are not in a bubble, says ClearBridge's Mike Clarfeld. He suggests looking not just at the upfront yield, but instead at the ability of the company to increase the payout over time. "The sweet spot ... attractive dividends, but really dividend growers - we don't think they are overvalued at all."
"Investors need to understand the growing risks of overplaying the defense card," writes AllianceBernstein's Joe Paul, exploring whether high-yield stocks are in bubble territory. It's not news they're expensive compared to past metrics, but high-yielders now make up a record 44% of the S&P 500 (on a cap-weighted basis). "As a countermeasure, (investors) may want to add more cyclical, deeper-value names."
Dividend investors get an interesting new choice with the launch of the PowerShares S&P 500 High Dividend ETF (SPHD), which comes with a low volatility twist. The fund picks 75 of the highest-yielding S&P stocks, but creates a portfolio of just those 50 exhibiting the lowest volatility. With an expense ratio of 0.30%, it's among the cheapest of the high dividend ETFs.
Currently weighting U.S. telecoms and utilities at zero in his dividend stock portfolio, Pimco's Brad Kinkelaar notes both sectors are trading at near off-the-chart premiums to their average relative multiple. Dividend investors would do better to look overseas, he says, where one can find companies that are growing, paying good dividends, and trading at better value. An excellent presentation.
"Enough about the 'fiscal cliff.' What about the dividend cliff?" Jason Zweig notes that on Jan. 1, the maximum dividend tax rate will go from 15% to either 18.8% or a heart-fluttering 43.4% - which means some companies expected to pay billions in dividends in the first few days of 2013 could save investors a bundle by moving a little sooner. Don't miss: He harks back to Ben Graham's drastic proposal that all surplus cash go to dividends unless an annual-meeting vote explicitly provides for reinvestment.
Net dividend increases totaled $8.8B in Q3, according to S&P, apparently a new record. Some 439 firms bumped their dividends, up 25.4% Y/Y, vs. just 53 lowering. Of more import, the payout ratio remains near its low of 34% vs. a long-term average of 52%. A strong rise in share prices reduced the average yield to 2.66% from 2.77% 3 months earlier.
Lagging far behind for much of the year, an international (developed markets) dividend fund (IDV) has pulled ahead of the popular domestic DVY (while sporting a higher yield as well). An emerging markets dividend fund (DEM) continues to trail both.
Dividend investors catch a break as Global X lowers the cost of its Super Dividend ETF (SDIV) to 0.58% from 1.14%. Just about a year old, the fund has nearly $120M in AUM and yields 7.7%. Perhaps applauding, investors give the fund a nice pop today relative to other dividend ETFs.
Has the "worship of stocks turned into the worship of bonds," asks Sober Look, noting - as have others - massive inflows into bond funds at the expense of stocks. Worth a look is the disappearing spread between the average yield on 5-year corporates vs. the S&P dividend yield - one can now get nearly the same yield holding the broad stock market as holding corporate paper.
"Under the hood analysis" is a must for dividend ETF investors, says WisdomTree's Jeremy Schwartz. Screens at many funds will leave out Apple, for instance, which is now the 3rd largest dividend payer in the U.S. Other techs - now the fastest dividend growers around - face the same issue. Don't forget international exposure, where firms are more likely to pay dividends and offer a higher yield.
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