5 ETFs for the Dividend Investor

If you’re looking to build a portfolio around companies that pay dividends, you’ll find a treasure trove of choices in exchange-traded funds. At least 35 ETFs follow a dividend-focused strategy, investing in income-paying stocks of large companies and small ones, in U.S. corporations as well as firms based overseas. And that doesn’t include the ETFs that invest in real estate investment trusts and master limited partnerships, two groups that tend to offer high yields.

It’s no surprise that dividends have returned to their rightful place as a key building block in investor portfolios. Historically, dividends have accounted for more than 40% of the stock market’s returns. They represent real cash in your pocket now. And after watching their paper profits go up in flames twice during the past decade’s two bear markets, burned investors realize that dividends are the only sure profits they can count on from stocks.

More than that, dividend-paying companies are among the most stable and least volatile companies on the market. The constant need to pay cash means these companies are consistently profitable and have management teams capable of keeping them that way.

Yield — a stock’s annual dividend rate per share divided by its share price — is always an important consideration when building a dividend-based portfolio. SPDR S&P 500 (SPY), an ETF better known as the Spider, tracks Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index; as of December, the ETF yielded 1.8%. SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF (DIA), formerly called the Diamonds, yielded 2.5%. If you can get yields of this amount from the key market benchmarks, you should eliminate any fund that pays less.

One of the best strategies is to invest in companies that increase their dividends on a regular basis. Firms that boost their payouts regularly are almost always those that generate steadily rising profits and are run by managers who are confident about the future.

Our top choice is SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY), which tracks the S&P High-Yield Dividend Aristocrats Index. It holds 60 companies from the S&P 1500 Index that have lifted their dividends at least 25 straight years. Most are high-quality, large-capitalization stocks that trade at reasonable prices.

Over the past five years, SDY returned 3.3% annualized, beating the S&P 500 by an average of one percentage point per year. In 2010, the ETF returned 16.4%, compared with the S&P’s 15.1% rise. SDY’s annual expense ratio is 0.35%. (All returns are through December 31.)

For the full write up on the other five ETFs, WisdomTree Emerging Markets Equity Income Fund (DEM), First Trust DJ Global Select Dividend Index Fund (FGD), iShares S&P U.S. Preferred Stock Index Fund (PFF), Guggenheim Multi-Asset Income ETF (CVY) go to Kiplinger.com to read 5 ETFs for the Dividend Investors.

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