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Investor Clinic

Five easy ways to cash in on U.S. dividends Add to ...

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to investing in U.S. dividend stocks.

The good news is that there are scores of great companies south of the border that regularly raise their dividends. The bad news? With so many dividend stocks to choose from, trying to pick the best ones for your portfolio can turn into a full-time job.

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That’s where exchange-traded funds come in. Like mutual funds, ETFs give you instant diversification. Unlike mutual funds, they have low fees and can be traded throughout the day. That explains why more investors are gravitating toward ETFs, and why companies are falling over each other to launch new ones.

With bond yields at microscopic levels and investors eager for income, it should come as no surprise that dividend ETFs are among the hottest products out there. We don’t have time to look at all of them, so today we’ll examine the five largest U.S. dividend ETFs, in descending order of assets under management.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind:

First, U.S. ETFs expose you to currency fluctuations. So if the Canadian dollar rises, the value of your investment will fall. If you’re uncomfortable with that, you could consider a currency-hedged ETF such as the iShares S&P U.S. Dividend Growers Index Fund , but remember that there are costs for currency hedging, and it’s far from an exact science.

Second, consider holding U.S. dividend ETFs in a registered retirement savings plan or registered retirement income fund. That way, there should be no U.S. withholding tax on the dividends. (For more on the tax consequences of U.S. dividends, read my column here.



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Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG-NYSE)

Assets: $13.3-billion (U.S.)

Holdings: 134

Expense ratio: 0.18 per cent

Yield: 2 per cent

This bargain-priced ETF proves that you don’t need an outsized yield to generate solid results. VIG had the highest annualized five-year return (4 per cent, including dividends) and a year-to-date return (7.6 per cent) near the top of the pack, according to indexuniverse.com (all returns are as of March 31). Designed to track Mergent’s Dividend Achievers Select Index, the fund features companies with consistent earnings growth and dividends that have risen for at least 10 consecutive years. Think Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, to name a few.

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iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend Index Fund (DVY-NYSE)

Assets: $10.1-billion (U.S.)

Holdings: 100

Expense ratio: 0.4 per cent

Yield: 3.4 per cent

You’ll pay a bit more for this ETF, but you’ll also get the highest yield of the group. The above-average yield reflects two things: a hefty 31-per-cent exposure to utilities, and a methodology that gives the heaviest weightings to the fattest yielders in the index. Proving once again that yield isn’t everything, however, the five-year annualized return is an uninspiring negative 0.9 per cent – the only ETF in the red for this period. But the ETF redeems itself with a three-year return of nearly 26 per cent – good for top spot.

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SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY-NYSE)

Assets: $9.2-billion (U.S.)

Holdings: 60

Expense ratio: 0.35 per cent

Yield: 3.1 per cent

This ETF seeks to match, before expenses, the performance of the S&P High Yield Dividend Aristocrats Index, which comprises the 60 highest-yielding S&P 1500 members that have raised dividends annually for at least 25 consecutive years. It has the fewest holdings, but the ETF is reasonably diversified, with consumer staples, financials, industrials and consumer discretionary making up about two-thirds of the total. Three-year and five-year annualized returns are 18.1 per cent and 2.3 per cent, respectively, which puts it in the middle of the pack.

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Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index ETF (VYM-NYSE)

Assets: $4.5-billion (U.S.)

Holdings: 439

Expense ratio: 0.13 per cent

Yield: 2.8 per cent

This fund has two big advantages: The lowest management expense ratio and the largest number of holdings, including all the big-cap dividend names you’d expect – Exxon Mobil, Microsoft, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer and so on. Based on the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index, the ETF has the second-best three-year annualized return (20.7 per cent) and third-best five-year return (1.9 per cent).

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iShares High Dividend Equity Fund (HDV-NYSE)

Assets: $1.4-billion (U.S.)

Holdings: 75

Expense ratio: 0.4 per cent

Yield: 2.5 per cent

It’s hard to make any definitive statements about this ETF because it’s only been around for a little more than a year, but one thing stands out: the excessive weighting of some stocks. AT&T, for example, accounts for nearly 10 per cent of the portfolio, Pfizer represents about 8 per cent and Johnson & Johnson makes up about 7 per cent. The 0.4-per-cent MER isn’t exactly cheap, either, and the performance numbers are uneven. The one-year return of 15.8 per cent is good for first place, but the year-to-date return of 3.9 per cent ranks dead last.

 
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