Preferred Stock Exchange-Traded Funds: A Good Or Bad Investment?

| About: iShares U.S. (PFF)


At first view, I might have altered my perception of Preferred Stock Exchange-Traded Funds.

I began my investigation into iShares US Preferred Stock.

My initial view was positive until I dug further down into the numbers.

The results were unimpressive to say the least.

Before I reach a fair conclusion, I've determined further research is necessary.

Recently, a growing number of my followers mentioned the success they had investing in Exchange-Traded Funds (ETF) that primarily traded and invested in diverse portfolios of preferred stocks. Although these funds primarily invest in fixed income preferreds, their distributions are not fixed, which initially, I must confess, discouraged me from investing in them. In addition, I didn't like the idea of management fees, which I felt diluted my gains, and the fact these funds were leveraging my money, when I could do by leveraging my own and directly investing in and growing my own preferred portfolio. However, upon reflection and the following research, I've come to the conclusion that I might have been wrong, and that there is a place for preferred ETFs in my portfolio.

According to Investopedia:

An ETF, or exchange-traded fund, is a marketable security that tracks an index, a commodity, bonds, or a basket of assets like an index fund. Unlike mutual funds, an ETF trades like a common stock on a stock exchange. ETFs experience price changes throughout the day as they are bought and sold. ETFs typically have higher daily liquidity and lower fees than mutual fund shares, making them an attractive alternative for individual investors.

Because it trades like a stock, an ETF does not have its net asset value [NAV] calculated once at the end of every day like a mutual fund does.

An ETF is a type of fund which owns the underlying assets (shares of stock, bonds, oil futures, gold bars, foreign currency, etc.) and divides ownership of those assets into shares. The actual investment vehicle structure (such as a corporation or investment trust) will vary by country, and within one country there can be multiple structures that co-exist. Shareholders do not directly own or have any direct claim to the underlying investments in the fund; rather they indirectly own these assets.

ETF shareholders are entitled to a proportion of the profits, such as earned interest or dividends paid, and they may get a residual value in case the fund is liquidated. The ownership of the fund can easily be bought, sold or transferred in much the same was as shares of stock, since ETF shares are traded on public stock exchanges.

Frankly, what drew my interest and began to alter my perspective was the following chart:

It displays iShares US Preferred Stock* (NYSEARCA:PFF) performance over the past five years. Frankly, I was impressed. Not only had this fund paid out an unbroken series of respectable dividends, it had basically maintained its value. However, when I ran a chart of its performance from its inception in 2007, it did not fare as well, losing approximately $11.00 in value. Yet, because I find it easier to assess the total amount of dividends distributed by this fund, I have decided to stay with the five-year review.

Consequently, over the past five years, PFF has distributed $13.17 for each share invested at an approximate price of $39.37 on June 27, 2011.

  • 13.17/39.37 = 33.46% yield over 65 months.
  • 33.46/65 = 0.00515 X 12 = 6.18% per year yield.

Therefore, if my math is correct, the investor would have profited by a yearly dividend yield of 6.18% over the past 5+ years. Respectable, but not earth shattering; yet, it's relatively of limited risk and the need for careful and constant monitoring.

However, over the life of the fund, the figures have not been as kind, considering the approximate $11.00 loss from its price at inception. Obviously, these figures will not be exact, but for our purposes, let's assume that the amount of yearly dividends remained constant. According to Yahoo's interactive chart, this fund was initiated on March 26, 2007, at a price of $50.15. As of yesterday's close, June 20, 2016, its price was $39.69.

  • 50.15 - 39.69 = 10.46 lost since inception.
  • 13.17/65 = 0.2026 per month per share dividend received.
  • 9.2 (years) or 110.4 (months) X 0.2026 = $22.37
  • 22.37 - 10.46 (Lost) = $11.91 total gain over 9.2 years
  • 11.91/50.15 (price) = 23.7% yield over 110.4 months.
  • 23.7/9.2 (years) = 2.58% per year yield.

Not a very impressive profit over the life of this fund thus far. However, the individuals profit or loss will primarily depend upon when he entered the fund and at what price he bought in at. Had he bought in low, say in March 2, 2009, at the very bottom, his gains would be impressive; however, had he bought in at inception, his gains were certainly nothing to brag about, considering during that time, had he invested in the S&P 500 his gains would have been substantial, as displayed below:

* PFF: The investment seeks to track the investment results of the S&P U.S. Preferred Stock IndexTM, which measures the performance of a select group of preferred stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Arca, NYSE Amex, NASDAQ Global Select Market, NASDAQ Select Market or NASDAQ Capital Market. The fund generally will invest at least 90% of its assets in the component securities of the index and may invest up to 10% of its assets in certain futures, options and swap contracts, cash and cash equivalents, as well as in securities not included in the index, but which the advisor believes will help the fund track the index. The fund is non-diversified.

In conclusion, if my calculations are correct (Please review them carefully to determine if any were made in error, and the wrong conclusion was consequently arrived at.), this has not been a good investment had you bought in at inception. In fact, the success of your investment is absolutely determined by the time you bought in and the price you paid for your shares. Therefore, I remain unconvinced at this time that an investment in this fund is a wise decision.

However, this is the first and only fund I have investigated thus far. Before I reach my final conclusion, I will do the same for a number of other funds I have already researched the names of: Power Shares Preferred ETF (NYSEARCA:PGX), Global X SuperIncome Preferred (NYSEARCA:SPFF), PowerShares Financial Preferred Portfolio (NYSEARCA:PGF), Market Vectors Preferred Securities ex Financials (NYSEARCA:PFXF), SPDR Wells Fargo Preferred Stock ETF (NYSEARCA:PSK), PowerShares Variable Rate Preferred Portfolio (NYSEARCA:VRP), iShares International Preferred Stock ETF (NYSEARCA:IPFF), John Hancock Preferred Income Fund II (NYSE:HPF), and First Trust Preferred Securities and Income ETF (NYSEARCA:FPE).

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

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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