Top 5 Dividend Growth ETFs

Dividend Growth ETFs

Dividend growth ETFs offer a convenient and diversified way to invest in companies that consistently grow their dividends. Certainly, dividend-paying stocks provide a predictable stream of cash flows to investors looking for extra income. Companies that steadily grow their dividends year over year are known as dividend aristocrats. Investors often view high dividend blue-chip companies as financially stable and less volatile than growth companies. Above all, the extra cash from dividends provides a buffer from market volatility. Many retirees use dividends to supplement their income during retirement. In the current low-interest environment, dividend growth ETFs are a compelling low-cost option for investors looking for extra yield. With a 10-year US treasury paying below 1%, income investors will need to look elsewhere for income. Furthermore, compared to mutual funds, exchange-traded funds offer an inexpensive and tax-efficient way to invest without worrying about annual capital gains distributions.

Our top Dividend Growth ETF picks

I have prepared a list of my favorite five dividend growth ETFs. Besides their shared focus, these dividend ETFs have a different approach in constructing their underlying portfolio. Depending on your goals, each ETFs will give you a different exposure and dividend payout.

Dividend Growth ETF Performance 2010-2019

TickerCAGRSt DevBest YearWorst YearMax. DrawdownSharpe RatioUS Mkt Correlation
VYM12.86%11.16%30.08%-5.91%-11.84%1.090.95
SDY13.07%11.15%30.07%-2.74%-11.00%1.110.92
VIG12.63%11.30%29.62%-2.08%-14.18%1.060.96
DVY12.96%10.60%28.85%-6.32%-10.08%1.150.88
FVD13.18%10.21%26.77%-3.48%-11.11%1.210.91
SPY13.44%12.44%32.31%-4.56%-16.23%1.041.00

Source: portfoliovisualizer.com

Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF – VYM

Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF, VYM, tracks the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index. The index selects high-dividend-paying US companies and weights them by market cap. The underlying index excludes real estate investment trusts (REITs).

VYM ETF offers a low-cost, diversified, conservative exposure to high dividend yield large-cap stocks. Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF charges 0.06% fee and currently pays a 3.2% dividend yield.

The ETF selects its holdings by ranking companies by their forecast dividends over the next 12 months. Only the stocks in the top half are selected. The remaining stocks are weighted by market capitalization. Due to its methodology, VYM tends to hold a large basket of large-cap value stocks.

SPDR® S&P Dividend ETF – SDY

SPDR® S&P Dividend ETF, SDY, tracks a yield-weighted index of dividend-paying companies from the S&P 1500 Composite Index. SDY uses dividend sustainability screens and only holds companies that have increased dividends for the past 20 years. The highest yielding firms are then weighted by dividend yield.

Many tech companies do not meet the strict requirements of paying dividends in the past 20 years. Therefore, SPDR® S&P Dividend ETF has minimal exposure to technology stocks.  Nevertheless, SDY is one of the few dividend growth ETFs that provides exposure to REITs.

SPDR® S&P Dividend ETF charges 0.35% fee and pays a 2.6% dividend yield. Unlike VYM, which ranks its holdings by market capitalization. SDY has a slight tilt towards mid-cap stocks. Investors looking for a broader exposure to the US dividend-paying stocks may find this ETF compelling despite its higher fee.

Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF – VIG

Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF, VIG, is the most growth-oriented ETF on our list of Dividend growth ETFs. VYM is the largest fund by assets under management (AUM). It tracks a market-cap-weighted index of US companies that have increased their annual dividends for ten or more consecutive years. VIG charges a 0.06% fee and pays a 1.8% dividend. Notably, this ETFs dividend yield is a tad smaller than the yield on the S&P 500.

VIG focuses on dividend growth rather than dividend yield. The fund selects firms that have increased their dividend payments for the past ten years and market-cap-weights its holdings. VIG has the biggest exposure to large-cap and mid-cap growth stocks. In conclusion, investors looking for exposure to high-quality dividend-paying large-cap stock may wish to consider VIG for their portfolios.

iShares Select Dividend ETF – DVY

iShares Select Dividend ETF offers the highest dividend yield on our list of Dividend growth ETF.  DVY pays 3.7% in dividends and charges 0.39% in fees. DVY tracks a dividend-weighted index of 100 US companies. The index selects dividend stocks from the Dow Jones broad market-cap index, excluding REITs.

DVY offers exposure to the US high-dividend stocks that skews towards large, mid, and small-cap value firms paying consistent dividends. DVY’s methodology has a strict sustainability screen, designed to select companies that pay steady and rising dividends. The screening process includes companies with at least $3 billion of market capitalization. Further on, the ETF selects stocks with five-year dividend growth, a coverage ratio of 167 or higher, positive trailing 12-months earnings per share, and high trading volume. The DVY portfolio has significant sector bets towards utilities and financial services.

First Trust Value Line® Dividend ETF – FVD

First Trust Value Line® Dividend ETF, FVD, aims to track an equal-weighted index of dividend-paying companies. The ETF uses a proprietary screening process that only includes companies with more than $1 billion in market cap. FVD has the highest fee on our list. It charges 0.7%, and it pays a 2.1% dividend.  FVD has the best 10-year performance and has reported a slightly lower risk of all five ETFs. Despite its higher than average performance, it produces one of the lowest yields in the group.

FVD creates its portfolio in two steps. First, it uses Value Line’s proprietary ‘safety rating’ system to select low-beta stocks from companies with strong balance sheets. Then it chooses the stocks with above-average yields and weights them equally. The methodology includes REITs and foreign ADRs. As a result, FVD has the highest exposure to international stocks in our list of Dividend growth ETFs. FVD makes big sector bets towards utilities and financial services.

Additionally, it has a slight tilt towards mid-cap stocks. Despite its higher than average performance, FVD produces one of the lowest yields in the group.  In conclusion, investors willing to accept the high cost of FVD may like to use it as an alternative to the more popular dividend growth ETFs.

Dividend Growth ETF Summary

As a group, dividend growth ETFs offer a steady income for yield-hungry investors. Even though none of them have outperformed the S&P 500 in absolute terms, most of these ETFs reported better risk-adjusted returns. In times market turmoil and uncertainty, dividend growth ETFs offer extra income and lower volatilty.

Disclaimer
Past performance does not guarantee future returns. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is the sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. Before investing, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation, and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing,

MLP Investing – Risks and benefits

MLP Investing

MLP investing is popular among retirees and income-seeking investors.  In this article, we will break down the benefits, risks and tax implications of investing in MLPs.

What is an MLP?

Managed Limited Partnerships (MLPs) have grown in popularity in the past several years. Many U.S. energy firms have reorganized their slow-growing, but stable cash flow businesses, such as pipelines and storage terminals, into MLPs.

MLPs are very attractive to income-seeking investors. They must pass at least 90% of their income to their partners (investors). As a whole, the MLP sector offers on average 6% annual yield with some MLPs reaching over 15%.

Companies that operate as MLPs tend to be in very stable, slow-growing industries, such as pipelines and energy storage. The nature of their business offers few opportunities for price appreciation. On the other hand, cash distributions are relatively stable and predictable giving the MLPs features of both an equity and fixed income investment.

The number of public MLPs increased dramatically in the past 20 years. There were more than 18 IPOs in 2014 from almost zero in 1984.      

MLP Legal structure

There are two types of MLP owners – general and limited partners. General partners manage the day-to-day operations of the partnership. All other investors are limited partners and have no involvement in the company’s activities. MLPs technically have no employees.

MLP investors buy units of the partnership. Unlike shareholders of a corporation, they are known as “unitholders.”

Each unitholder is responsible for paying their share of the partnership’s income taxes. Unitholders are required to file K-1 forms in each state where the MLP operates, regardless of the size of revenue generated from that state. This filing requirement makes the direct MLP ownership.

Additionally, open-end funds like traditional ETFs are restricted from investing more than 25% of their portfolio in MLPs. Therefore most ETFs choose a C-corporation or ETN structure in order to track the MLP market.

Distributions

MLPs provide generous income to their investors. The average yield is around 6% as some small MLPs pay up to 15%. The distributions from MLP consist of non-qualified dividends, return on capital, and capital gains.

Since MLPs pass through 90% of their income to unitholders, each type of distribution has different tax treatment.

Dividends are taxed at the ordinary income tax level, up to 39.6% plus 3.8% for Medicare surcharge.

Capital gains are taxable as either long-term or short-term. Long-term capital gains have favorable tax treatment with rates between 0, 15% and 20%. Short-term gains are taxed at the ordinary income level.

The largest portion of MLP distributions comes as a return on capital. The benefit comes from the MLPs use of depreciation allowances on capital equipment, pipelines, and storage tanks, to offset net income. Return on capital distributions are tax deferred. Instead of being immediately taxable, distributions decrease the cost basis of the investment. Taxes are only due to these distributions when investors sell their units. In fact, investors can defer paying taxes indefinitely by keeping their shares.

Tax Impact

MLP distributions are not sheltered from taxes in retirement accounts. According to the Unrelated business taxable income (UBTI) rule, unitholders will owe taxes on partnership income over $1,000 even if the units are held in a retirement account.

Individual MLP holdings, ETFs, mutual funds and CEFs are most suitable for long-term buy and hold investors in their taxable investment accounts. Those investors can benefit from the tax-deferred nature of the cost of capital distributions, which will decrease their cost basis over time. They will pay taxes only when they sell their units. Investors can avoid paying taxes indefinitely or until cost basis reaches zero. In that case, they will owe taxes on the return of capital distributions at the long-term capital gain rate.

Short-term investors may consider ETNs for their better index tracking. All distributions from ETNs are taxable as an ordinary income level and do not provide any preferential tax treatment.

Risk considerations with MLP Investing

MLPs drive their revenue from the volume of transported energy products. Their business is less dependent on the fluctuations of the commodity prices compared to other oil & gas companies. Historically, MLPs as a group is less volatile than the broader energy sector. MLP price tends to have a direct correlation with the partnership distributions. Higher payouts drive higher prices while lowers distributions push the price down.

Between September 2010 and October 2016, the largest MLP ETF, AMLP had a standard deviation equal to 14.8%. As a comparison, the largest energy ETF, XLE, had a standard deviation of 19.61%.

MLPs are often treated as an alternative investment due to their considerable ownership of real assets. They also have a lower correlation with the broad equity and fixed income markets while simultaneously having characteristics of both. AMLP has 0.57 correlation with S&P 500 and -0.16 to the 20-year treasury.

MLP Investing options

Direct ownership

As of March 31, 2016, 118 energy MLPs were totaling $304 billion in market capitalization.

The most popular index tracking the MLP space is Alerian MLP. The index has 44 constituents and $298 billion market capitalization.

There are ten companies dominating the sector. They make up close to two-thirds of the Alerian MLP Index. The remainder consists of hundreds of small and mid-size partnerships.  

Direct MLP ownership is a popular strategy for yield-seeking investors. The direct investing also provides the most beneficial tax treatment of MLP distributions – tax deferral.

However, the biggest drawbacks of direct investing are the large tax filing cost and exposure to a single company.

Investors interested in direct ownership in MLPs should consider buying a basket of partnerships to diversify their risk more efficiently. They should also weight the tax benefits of direct ownership versus the cost of year-end tax filing.

ETFs and ETNs

MLP ETFs and ETNs have the most complex legal and tax structure of any other ETFs. Due to these complexities, most funds are structured as ETNs.

There are 28 MLP ETFs and ETNs currently listed on the exchange. Their total Asset Under Management (AUM) is $17.7 billion with the top 4 ETFs dominating the space with total AUM equal to $15.9 billion. 

AMLP

AMLP is the most popular and liquid MLP ETF. It tracks the Alerian MLP index. AMLP is the first ETF to address the complexity of direct MLP ownership.  This ETF offers a broad diversification to the largest publicly traded MLPs.

AMLP offers simplified tax filing by issuing standard 1099 form. Because of its legal structure, AMLP can pass the tax-deferred treatment of MLP distributions to its investors.

To satisfy the legal restrictions on ownership, AMLP is structured as a corporation, not an actual ETF.  AMLP pays taxes at the corporate level. The structure requires the fund to accrue the future tax liabilities of unrealized gains in its portfolio. Doing this is causing the fund to trail its underlying Alerian Index during bull markets and beat it during down periods.

AMJ

AMJ is the next most popular fund in this category. It is structured as an exchange-traded note.

ETNs are an unsecured debt instrument structured to track an underlying index’s return, minus management fees. Unlike exchange-traded funds, ETNs do not buy and hold any the underlying assets in the indexes they track. They represent a promise by the issuing bank to match the performance of the index.

AMJ is issued by JP Morgan and capped at the market value of $3.885 billion. Investors in AMJ have credit exposure to JP Morgan in case they are not able to pay the performance of the index.

Due to the lack of actual MLP ownership, AMJ can replicate the performance of the Alerian MLP index much closer than AMLP.

AMJ also issues single 1099 tax form. However, all its distributions are taxable as ordinary income, for up to 39.6% plus 3.8% of Medicare surcharge. AMJ distributions do not have the preferential tax treatment of AMLP and individual MLP ownership.

This ETF is suitable for short term investors willing to bet on the MLP sector and not interested in any potential income and tax benefits.

EMLP

EMLP is the only traditional ETF in this group. Because of the regulatory restrictions, EMLP holds only 25% stake in MLPs and the remaining 32% in Energy, 40% in Utilities and 2% in Basic Materials. Unlike the other funds, EMLP has a broader exposure to companies in the energy infrastructure sector. According to the prospectus, the fund invests in publicly traded master limited partnerships and limited liability Canadian income trusts,, pipeline companies, utilities, and other companies that derive at least 50% of their revenues from operating or providing services in support of infrastructure assets such as pipelines, power transmission and petroleum and natural gas storage in the petroleum, natural gas and power generation industries.

Mutual Funds

The three Oppenheimer mutual funds are dominating this niche. They manage almost 50% of the $20b AUM by MLP mutual funds.

The MLP mutual funds tend to have higher fees than most ETFs. They utilize the corporate structure which allows them to transfer the majority of the income and tax advantages to their shareholders.

Closed-End Funds

Closed-End funds (CEF) are another alternative for investing in the MLP sector. Similarly to mutual funds,  CEFs are actively managed. The difference is that they only issue a limited number of publicly traded shares.

Most MLP closed-end funds use leverage between 24% to 40%  to boost their income. These funds borrow money in order to increase their investments.

 

CEFs shares often trade at premium or discount from the NAV of their holdings. When purchased at a discount they can offer potential long-term gains to interested investors.

MLP CEFs also use the c-corp structure. They issue a 1099 form and pass current income and return on capital to their investors allowing for tax-deferral benefits on the distributions.

 

10 Ways to reduce taxes in your investment portfolio

10 Ways to reduce taxes in your investment portfolio

Successful practices to help you lower taxes in your investment portfolio

A taxable investment account is any brokerage or trust account that does not come with tax benefits. Unlike Roth IRA and Tax-Deferred 401k plans, these accounts do not have many tax advantages. Your contributions to the account are with after-tax dollars. This is money you earned from salary, royalties, the sale of a property, and so on. All gains, losses, dividends, interest, and other income from any investments are subject to taxes at the current tax rates.  In this post, we will discuss several successful practices that can help you lower taxes in your investment portfolio

Why investors put money into taxable accounts? They provide flexibility and liquidity, which are not available by other retirement accounts. Money is readily accessible for emergencies and unforeseen expenses. Many credit institutions take these accounts as a liquid asset for loan applications.

Since investment accounts are taxable, their owners often look for ways to minimize the tax impact at the end of the year. Several practices can help you reduce your overall tax burden.

1. Buy and Hold

Taxable investment accounts are ideal for buy and hold investors who don’t plan to trade frequently. By doing that investors will minimize trading costs and harvest long-term capital gains when they decide to sell their investments. Long-term capital gains are taxable at a favorable rate of 0%, 15% or 20% plus 3.8% Medicare surcharge. In contrast, short-term gains for securities held less than a year are taxed at the higher ordinary income level.

Individuals and families often use investments accounts for supplemental income and source of liquidity. Those investors are usually susceptible to market volatility. Diversification is the best way to lower market risk. I strongly encourage investors to diversify their portfolios by investing in uncorrelated assets including mid-cap, small-cap, international stocks, bonds, and real assets.

2. Invest in Municipal Bonds

Most municipal bonds are exempt from taxes on their coupon payments. They are considered a safer investment with a slightly higher risk than Treasury bonds but lower than comparable corporate bonds.

This tax exemption makes the municipal bond suitable investment for taxable accounts, especially for individuals in the high brackets category.

3. Invest in growth non-dividend paying stocks

Growth stocks that pay little or no dividends are also a great alternative for long-term buy and hold investors. Since the majority of the return from stocks will come from price appreciation, investors don’t need to worry about paying taxes on dividends. They will only have to pay taxes when selling the investments. 

4. Invest in MLPs

Managed Limited Partnerships have a complex legal and tax structure, which requires them to distribute 90% of their income to their partners. The majority of the distributions come in the form return on capital which is tax-deferred and deducted from the cost basis of the investments. Investors don’t owe taxes on the return on capital distributions until their cost basis becomes zero or decide to sell the MLP investment.

One caveat, MLPs require K-1 filing in each state where the company operates, which increases the tax filing cost for their owners.

 5. Invest in Index Funds and ETFs

Index funds and ETFs are passive investment vehicles. Typically they track a particular index or a benchmark. ETFs and index funds have a more tax-efficient structure that makes them suitable for taxable accounts. Unlike them, most actively managed mutual funds frequently trade in and out of individual holdings causing them to release long-term and short-term capital gains to shareholders.

6. Avoid investments with a higher tax burden

While REITs, taxable bonds, commodities, and actively managed mutual funds have their spot in the investment portfolio, they come with a higher tax burden.

The income from REITs, treasuries, corporate and international bonds is subject to the higher ordinary income tax, which can be up to 39.6% plus 3.8% Medicare surcharge

Commodities, particularly Gold are considered collectibles and taxed at a minimum of 28% for long-term gains.

Actively managed funds, as mentioned earlier, periodically release long-term and short-term capital gains to their shareholders, which automatically triggers additional taxes.

7. Make gifts

You can use up to $14,000 a year or $28,000 for a couple to give to any number of people you wish without tax consequences. You can make gifts of cash or appreciated investments from your investment account to family members at a lower tax bracket than yours.

8. Donate 

You can make contributions in cash for up to 50% of your taxable income to your favorite charity. You can also donate appreciated stocks for up to 30% of AGI. Consequently, the value of your donation will reduce your income for the year. If you had a good year when you received a big bonus, sold a property or made substantial gains in the market, making donations will help you reduce your overall tax bill for the year.

9. Stepped up cost basis

At the current law, the assets in your investment account will be received by your heirs at the higher stepped-up basis, not at the original purchase price. If stocks are transferred as an inheritance directly (versus being sold and proceeds received in cash), they are not subject to taxes on any long-term or short-term capital gains. Your heirs will inherit the stocks at the new higher cost basis.  However, if your investments had lost value over time, you may wish to consider other ways to transfer your wealth. In this case, the stepped-up basis will be lower than you originally paid for and may trigger higher taxes in the future for your heirs.

10. Tax-loss harvesting

Tax-loss harvesting is selling investments at a loss. The loss will offset gains from other the sale of other securities. Additionally, investors can use $3,000 of investment losses a year to offset ordinary income. They can also carry over any remaining amounts for future tax filings.