4 Best Dividend-Paying U.S. Healthcare ETFs (FHLC)

For investors expecting rough weather ahead in the economy and the markets, the health care sector remains one of the best places to be for a defensive strategy. The demand for health care will continue to increase as the population ages and emerging markets gain more access to health care.

Conventional wisdom suggests large-cap health care stocks are less sensitive to economic changes, which makes them ideal buffers in a diversified equities portfolio. Many of the more established health care companies pay hefty dividends, which can provide some downside protection. Several exchange-traded funds (ETFs) focus on these generous dividend payers, resulting in fairly nice dividend yields for their investors.

Fidelity MSCI Health Care ETF

The Fidelity MSCI Health Care ETF (NYSEACRA: FHLC) is only the 13th-largest health care ETF, but it tops all health care ETFs with a trailing 12-month yield of 2.3%. Its three top holdings comprise 21% of the portfolio, and all three are all dividend-paying giants: Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) at a 9.95% allocation with a 2.81% dividend yield, Pfizer, Inc. (NYSE: PFE) at a 6.18% allocation with a 3.83% dividend yield and Merck & Co, Inc. (NYSE: MRK) at a 4.92% allocation with a 3.46% dividend yield. Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ: GILD) has a 4.26% allocation and a 1.65% dividend yield, while UnitedHealth Group, Inc. (NYSE: UNH) has a 3.89% and a 1.47% dividend yield. The fund was launched it 2013, so it only shows a one-year return of -7.54%. Year to date (YTD) as of March 2016, the fund is down -8.37%. The fund has an expense ratio of 0.12%.

Market Vectors Pharmaceutical ETF

The Market Vectors Pharmaceutical ETF (NSYEARCA: PPH) is one of the smaller health care ETFs, with $285 million in assets under management (AUM). As of March 9, 2016, it has the second-highest trailing 12-month yield at 2.2%. Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Merck & Co are among its top five holdings, but the fund invests globally, capturing the big dividend yields of international pharmaceutical giants Novartis AG (NYSE: NVE) paying 3.81% and GlaxoSmithKline PLC (NYSE: GSK) paying a whopping 5.96%. The fund was launched in 2012, so it only shows a three-year return of 13.2% and a one-year return of -11.57%. Its March 2016 YTD return is -8.73%. The fund’s expense ratio is 0.35%.

IShares Global Healthcare ETF

The iShares Global Healthcare ETF (NYSEACRA: IXJ) has $1.6 billion in AUM, making it the fifth-largest health care ETF. As of March 9, 2016, its trailing 12-month yield is 1.89%. In addition to Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Novartis, and Merck, which comprise nearly 22% of the portfolio, Roche Holding AG (SWX: ROG) takes up 4.67% and has a dividend yield of 3.26%. Over the last 10 years, the fund has returned 8%, and over the last five years, it has returned 14.38%. YTD as of March 2016, the fund has returned -7.09%. The fund’s expense ratio is 0.47%.

Health Care Select Sector SPDR ETF

With more than $12.8 billion in AUM, the Health Care Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEACRA: XLV) is the largest healthcare-focused ETF. It invests in large-cap health care companies listed on the Standard & Poor's (S&P) 500 Index. As of March 9, 2016, its trailing 12-month yield is 1.56% thanks to its large positions in some big dividend-paying stocks. Johnson & Johnson holds down the largest position at 11.57% of the portfolio; Pfizer and Merck comprise more than 12% of the portfolio. The fund's 10-year return is 9.52%, and its five-year return is 17.24%. YTD as of March 2016, the fund has returned -6.65%. The fund’s expense ratio is 0.14%.

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