Fresk: Dividend ETF Alternatives

March 05, 2014

This article is part of a regular series of thought leadership pieces from some of the more influential ETF strategists in the money management industry. Today’s article features Clayton Fresk, CFA, portfolio management analyst at Georgia-based Stadion Money Management.

A few months ago, I compared two of the large dividend ETF names available; this time I want to examine some of the other ways investors can obtain yield, whether that’s through funds focused on buybacks, covered calls or some combination of buybacks and dividends.

Don’t get me wrong: Funds like the SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY | A-72) and the iShares Select Dividend ETF (DVY | A-67) that I wrote about are still quite popular.

After all, thus far in 2014, the dividend ETF universe is still one of the most sought-after segments of the fund market.

It may be fixed-income investors looking for alternative sources of yield in the face of low and potentially rising interest rates, or it may be equity investors looking for a lower-beta alternative to broad-market exposure in the face of what could be a stock market corrections after a five-year run.

But the bottom line is this: Investors want yield, and these days, it’s not easy to find.

If these dividend ETF names fall out of favor, the sell-off could be more exaggerated than what one may expect. A similar situation happened during the summer, when dividend names outperformed the broad market despite rising rates. Eventually, this positive dispersion reversed course as rates continued to climb, and relative performance came “crashing” back to Earth in the fall.

So what are some options for investors looking to diversify (whether from fixed income or equities) but are hesitant to move into dividend names?

Stock Buybacks


There are a few ETFs that concentrate on companies with strong stock-buyback programs, with the most notable being the PowerShares Buyback Achievers Portfolio (PKW | B-92).

PKW invests in companies that have purchased at least 5 percent of their outstanding shares within the past 12 months, with top holdings including bellwether names such as Pfizer and AT&T.

A couple notes of interest are that PKW is heavily concentrated in consumer discretionary and tech names, making up more than 50 percent of the exposure. That’s important, because if these sectors fall out of favor, PKW could experience some relative underperformance.

Additionally, companies in which PKW invest are highly leveraged, running an average debt-to-equity ratio of 113 percent, compared with 69 percent for the dividend fund SDY, and 34 percent for the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY | A-97).

On the performance front, since the end of 2012, PKW has shined relative to the broad market and dividend names, returning more than 46 percent, compared with 33 to 31 percent for SPY and SDY, respectively.



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