Retiree Study: Dividend Aristocrats; What's Missing

by: YCharts

The good folks at recently took a look to see how an income investor who used the Dividend Aristocrats -- stuffed with stocks including Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Sysco (NYSE:SYY), Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) and 3M (NYSE:MMM) -- as the default for 60% of their portfolio would have fared compared to plunking that 60% in the S&P 500. (In both cases the other 40% was invested in a core bond fund tied to the Barclays Aggregate (AGG) index.)

If a retiree started with $1 million in 2000 and used the Dividend Aristocrats for the stock allocation, he would have nearly $1.8 million at the end of 2013. And that's assuming our retiree made annual withdrawals that started at 4% in 2000 and were adjusted for inflation going forward. The portfolio using the straight up S&P 500 as its stock allocation came in at $838,000. If the start date is 1994, the portfolio with the Dividend Aristocrats as the stock anchor grew to $3.4 million and the portfolio using the S&P 500 reached $2.7 million by the end of 2013.

Until recently, the only way to invest in the Aristocrats through a diversified portfolio was the SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (NYSEARCA:SDY) that owns all the stocks in the S&P 1500 -- yes that's 1500 not 500 -- that have managed to raise their dividends annually over the past 20 years. But last fall, a purer play on the S&P 500's Aristocrats hit the ETF market. The ProShares S&P 500 Aristocrats ETF (BATS:NOBL) owns the 10% or so of the that index that has managed annual dividend hikes over the past 25 years. (Yep, 25 years for the S&P 500 Aristocrats and 20 years for the S&P 1500 Aristocrats. Go figure.)

While five months is too short a time to draw any meaningful conclusions, the chart below provides some important grounding: over the long term the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats have delivered, but that does not mean they always outperform in terms of total return.

NOBL Total Return Price Chart

NOBL Total Return Price data by YCharts

And it's important to understand that the Aristocrat model only insists on dividend growth; there's no bar set on how much dividend growth is required. One of the prime attributes a dividend stock has over a bond is the ability to have the income payout grow at a pace that is better than the rate of inflation. Yet a retiree leaning hard on Aristocrats such as Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED), Cincinnati Financial (NASDAQ:CINF) and Nucor (NYSE:NUE) hasn't pocketed inflation-beating dividend hikes over the past five years.

ED Dividend Chart

ED Dividend data by YCharts

And that's a stretch when inflation has been very very low. If we assumed a more normal 3% annualized inflation rate over the past five years, more S&P 500 Aristocrats had dividend hikes that would have fallen below that 16% total inflation rise, including high AT&T (NYSE:T):

T Dividend Chart

T Dividend data by YCharts

Moreover, it's important to understand who's not in the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats. Namely: the tech sector. There are no tech stocks in the ProShares S&P 500 Aristocrats ETF. That compares to a nearly 17% weight for tech stocks in the S&P 500. Of course the problem is the 25-year payout requirement. It's not just Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), which just started (re)paying a dividend two years ago, but even dividend standout Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has only been at it for a mere 11 years ago. Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) also started its payout in 2003. Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) has been at it since 2011.

What you do own a lot of are Consumer Defensive stocks. The 27% weighting in the ProShares ETF is nearly three times the level for the S&P 500. Within that sector, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) has a dividend yield well above the 1.7% for the S&P 500, along with solid dividend growth, all selling at a not worrisome 15 trailing 12 month PE ratio.

WMT Dividend Chart

WMT Dividend data by YCharts

Chevron (NYSE:CVX) is perhaps the most compelling Aristocrat. A current yield near 3.5% is well ahead of the 2.8% yield on the 10-year Treasury note. Meanwhile, dividend growth is decidedly well above inflation:

CVX Dividend Chart

CVX Dividend data by YCharts

Chevron recently traded at a trailing 12 month PE ratio of 10.

Carla Fried, a senior contributing editor at, has covered investing for more than 25 years. Her work appears in The New York Times, and Money Magazine.

Disclosure: None