Are you interested in good, reliable retirement income but disinterested in keeping tabs on a portfolio of individual dividend stocks? No problem. There are several exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, that fit the bill. Here's a rundown of three of the top choices from this category -- in no particular order.
1. iShares Core Dividend Growth ETF
There are lots of dividend stocks, but not all dividend stocks are the same. It makes sense to make a point of seeking out companies in the habit of regular dividend hikes. That's the key characteristic of the iShares Core Dividend Growth ETF (DGRO -0.13%).
Designed to mirror Morningstar's US Dividend Growth Index, this exchange-traded fund is limited to stocks with at least five consecutive years of uninterrupted annual dividend growth as well as stocks with significant profit-margin rates that leave plenty of room for continuous payout growth. Namely, the company's payout ratio can't exceed 75% of net earnings.
These criteria place some surprising names in the fund's pool of holdings, with Microsoft, Apple, and Cisco among the ten biggest positions. These technology stocks aren't usually owned for their income-producing potential; the ETF's dividend yield of a modest 2% is evidence of this.
If you can stick with the fund for a while, though, the dividend's growth as well as the sheer capital appreciation of these quality names is worth the wait. The June quarter's per-share payout of $0.261 is more than 50% better than the dividend this ETF was distributing just five years ago. In the meantime, the fund itself is trading more than 80% above its value from five years back.
2. SPDR S&P Dividend ETF
The SPDR S&P Dividend ETF's (SDY -0.01%) moniker doesn't do the fund justice. This exchange-traded fund is actually meant to mirror the S&P High Yield Dividend Aristocrats Index, which is comprised of the highest-yielding tickers among all of the so-called Dividend Aristocrats,
A Dividend Aristocrat is simply an S&P 500 constituent that's raised its annual dividend payment every year for at least the past 25 years. As of the latest count, there are only 65 such names.
Simply upping a yearly payout doesn't make a stock a must-have dividend payer, of course, since any payout growth (no matter how measly it may be) still qualifies as an increase. And, for many of these stocks the yield is still rather anemic in spite of continued dividend growth.
The S&P High Yield Dividend Aristocrats Index, however, improves its dividend profile by overweighting Dividend Aristocrats with higher dividend yields, and underweighting the lower-yielding stocks. The resulting index isn't dramatically different from an unweighted index of the Dividend Aristocrats, but the fund in question still sports an above-average yield of 2.6% from some of the bluest of blue-chip names.
For the record, this ETF is an underperformer. SDY has only gained about half as much as the broad market over the past five years. But that's ok and even to be expected. The ETF's really all about the dividend, which means it's likely going to lag the broad market, particularly when the broad market's gains are being driven by non-dividend-paying growth stocks.
3. Global X U.S. Preferred ETF
Finally, add the Global X U.S. Preferred ETF (PFFD 1.32%) to your list of exchange-traded dividend funds to consider if you're retired or near retirement. This ETF plugs investors into one of the market's most overlooked yet most attractive opportunities -- preferred stocks.
Preferred stocks are something of a hybrid of conventional common stocks and bonds. Most trade with a targeted payout yield, but unlike bonds, these instruments aren't legally considered a loan. Issuing companies don't have to make the suggested dividend payments; it's just done on a best-effort basis. On the other hand, preferred stocks' dividend payments are generally prioritized before dividend payments to common shareholders.
In other words, they're a little riskier than bonds and tend to yield a little more. On the other hand, they're a little less risky than owning common stock and therefore tend not to meaningfully participate in any common stock-price appreciation a company can drive.
Problem: Brokerage firms, the media, and data suppliers don't make preferred stocks any easier to trade. Pricing information on them is often delayed, if it's available at all, and research on preferred stocks is typically scant. This is all the more reason to simply delegate the effort and buy into a basket of these names that's better managed by a third party like Global X.
Currently, Global X U.S. Preferred ETF has a healthy dividend yield of 4.8%, easily topping the S&P 500's current average dividend yield of 1.3%. Just keep in mind that, like SPDR S&P Dividend ETF, Global X's preferred fund is far more about the dividend payment than capital appreciation...perhaps even more so than the SPDR fund.