Top US Dividend ETFs

U.S. dividend growth slowed in Q3, but dividend-focused ETFs remain strong performers.

Reviewed by: Sumit Roy
Edited by: Sumit Roy

U.S. equity dividend payouts slowed significantly in the third quarter, according to a report from Henderson Global Investors. On a headline basis, dividends dropped 7%, the worst showing since the introduction of the Henderson Global Dividend Index in 2009.

Stripping out unpredictable special dividends, U.S. dividends had a stronger showing in Q3, rising 3% year-over-year. But that was still the slowest pace of growth in seven years.

"The slowdown follows more subdued profit growth in the U.S. partly thanks to the stronger dollar, but it also reflects higher indebtedness at U.S. corporates, leading to greater caution on preserving cash flow," said the authors of the report.

However, they went on to say that they "do not see this as a major cause for concern" because "dividend growth in the U.S. had to return to a more sustainable rate after a couple of years of double-digit expansion."

Two Approaches For Dividend ETFs

In light of the latest news on dividends, now is a good time to check in on dividend ETFs. These were a hot area of the ETF universe as interest rates steadily fell to new lows; now the shine has come off them to some extent as rates have spiked higher.

Still, dividend exchange-traded funds remain popular, and on the whole, have performed well this year. These ETFs largely fall into two buckets―those that focus on stocks with high yields, and those that focus on stocks with a history of strong dividend growth.

Taking the latter approach is the biggest dividend ETF of them all, the $22.4 billion Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG). This ETF holds a market-cap-weighted index of companies with at least 10-consecutive years of increasing annual dividend payments.

VIG is an ETF designed for consistent dividend growth rather than high absolute yield. Its current distribution yield of just over 2% is close to that of the broader market, making it a poor choice for those looking for higher payouts.

For that, investors have to turn to a product like the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM), the second-largest dividend ETF with $16.5 billion in assets. This is an ETF that holds stocks of the highest-yielding half of the U.S. equity markets (excluding REITs) and market-cap-weights them. The result is a fund with a 2.9% yield, notably higher than the overall market.

As Vanguard explains, "[VYM] provides broad exposure to U.S. companies that are dedicated to consistently paying larger-than-average dividends. [However], the fund’s emphasis on slower-growing, higher-yielding companies [means] that its total return may not be as strong in a significant bull market."


Other Dividend ETF Giants

VIG and VYM nicely illustrate the two most popular dividend strategies used by ETFs. There are other funds that use different variations of these strategies, but the concepts are the same.

For example, the iShares Select Dividend ETF (DVY)―the third-largest dividend ETF, with $16.4 billion in assets―selects 100 stocks "by dividend yield, subject to screens for dividend-per-share growth rate, dividend payout ratio and average daily dollar trading volume."

The resulting basket of stocks is then weighted by indicated annual dividend. DVY has a current distribution yield of 3.1%.

Meanwhile, the No. 4 dividend ETF by assets, the $15 billion SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY), takes the dividend-growth strategy to an extreme. SDY only holds stocks of companies that have followed "a managed-dividends policy of consistently increasing dividends every year for at least 20 years."

The ETF's current yield of about 2.4% is higher than the broader market.

Then there's the iShares Core High Dividend ETF (HDV), the fifth-largest U.S. dividend ETF, with $6.2 billion in assets. The ETF follows an index that screens for companies with sustainable competitive advantages and strong balance sheets. It then selects the 75 highest-yielding stocks from that group.

Currently, the ETF has a distribution yield of 3.5%.

Year-To-Date Returns

The aforementioned ETFs are only five of the many U.S.-focused (nonleveraged) dividend ETFs on the market today. Put up against all U.S. dividend ETFs, returns for VIG, VYM, DVY, SDY and HDV are toward the middle of the pack (funds focused on small-caps and midcaps have done better). Still, they are all handily beating the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), which is up about 10% on the year.

See the table below for a full list of year-to-date returns for this segment:


Ticker Fund YTD Return (%)
SMDV  ProShares Russell 2000 Dividend Growers ETF 30.48
DGRS  WisdomTree US Small-cap Quality Dividend Growth Fund 28.53
DES  WisdomTree Small-Cap Dividend Fund 27.74
PEY  PowerShares High Yield Equity Dividend Achievers Portfolio 27.72
REGL  ProShares S&P MidCap 400 Dividend Aristocrats ETF 26.35
RDIV  Oppenheimer Ultra Dividend Revenue ETF 26.12
SPYD  SPDR S&P 500 High Dividend ETF 24.06
SDOG  ALPS Sector Dividend Dogs ETF 22.27
RDVY First Trust Nasdaq Rising Dividend Achievers ETF 20.99
SPHD  PowerShares S&P 500 High Dividend Low Volatility Portfolio 20.23
DVY iShares Select Dividend ETF 19.45
DON  WisdomTree MidCap Dividend Fund 19.17
SDY  SPDR S&P Dividend ETF 18.35
DIVC C-Tracks ETN - Miller/Howard Strategic Dividend Reinvestor 18.14
DTN  WisdomTree Dividend ex-Financials Fund 17.15
FVD  First Trust Value Line Dividend Index Fund 16.85
FDL  First Trust Morningstar Dividend Leaders Index Fund 16.77
DOD  Elements Dogs of the DOW Dow Jones High Yield Select 10 Total Return ETN 15.67
QDF  FlexShares Quality Dividend Index Fund 15.20
QDYN FlexShares Quality Dividend Dynamic Index Fund 14.96
DHS WisdomTree High Dividend Fund 14.63
LVHD  Legg Mason Low Volatility High Dividend ETF 14.62
VYM  Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index Fund 13.90
SCHD  Schwab US Dividend Equity ETF 13.85
DTD  WisdomTree Total Dividend Fund 13.73
DGRO  iShares Core Dividend Growth ETF 13.43
QDEF  FlexShares Quality Dividend Defensive Index Fund 13.00
DLN WisdomTree LargeCap Dividend Fund 12.60
DJD  Guggenheim Dow Jones Industrial Average Dividend ETF 12.55
PFM  PowerShares Dividend Achievers Portfolio 12.19
HDV  iShares Core High Dividend ETF 11.97
VIG  Vanguard Dividend Appreciation Index Fund 10.91
NOBL  ProShares S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats ETF 10.55
DGRW  WisdomTree US Quality Dividend Growth Fund 10.49
OUSA  O'Shares FTSE US Quality Dividend ETF 8.98
DIV  Global X SuperDividend US ETF 7.60
RFDA  RiverFront Dynamic US Dividend Advantage ETF N/A
LEAD  Reality Shares DIVCON Leaders Dividend ETF N/A
GARD  Reality Shares DIVCON Dividend Guard ETF N/A
PFV  Amplify YieldShares Prime 5 Dividend ETF N/A
DFND  Reality Shares DIVCON Dividend Defender ETF N/A
XSHD  PowerShares S&P SmallCap High Dividend Low Volatility Portfolio N/A


Contact Sumit Roy at [email protected]


Sumit Roy is the senior ETF analyst for, where he's worked for 12 years. Before joining the company, Roy was the managing editor and commodities analyst for Hard Assets Investor. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he enjoys climbing the city’s steep hills, playing pickleball and snowboarding.