HNDL: A High-Income ETF Designed for Retirees

Retirees can opt to set up annuities to receive a steady stream of cash after they have stopped earning a regular income. Though annuities are generally considered to be risk-free forms of investment, they do have disadvantages. They are largely illiquid, for instance, and they are only as strong as the insurance company or other institution that provides them.

Because there are 71.6 million baby boomers and thousands of them retire every day, there is more need than ever for additional options for retirement income.

The Strategy Shares Nasdaq 7HANDL Index ETF (HNDL) was created in January 2018 for this demographic and is a viable alternative to annuities, with the goal of offering a steady 7% annual distribution rate to its investors.

Key Takeaways

  • HNDL is a fund-of-funds ETF that seeks to generate a high level of income for holders.
  • The way that HNDL is structured, the cash flows paid to investors are distributions and not dividends.
  • The fund is intended for those seeking above-average income flows and who are willing to take on a bit of additional risk over traditional income funds.

Strategy Shares Nasdaq 7HANDL Index ETF (HNDL)

Launched in January of 2018, the Strategy Shares Nasdaq 7HANDL Index ETF (HNDL) claims to be a first-of-its-kind target distribution ETF designed to pay investors a consistent monthly distribution.

What's more, that target distribution aims to be 7% of the fund's per-share net asset value (NAV) on the date of a distribution declaration. A distribution yield of 7% is relatively generous compared to the safest investments like savings accounts and CDs.

HNDL's portfolio manager David Miller explains that "what's unique [about HNDL] is the 7% target distribution. As opposed to just owning a diversified portfolio, investors wouldn't have to go to the effort to sell part of their holdings to generate what they would get from the distributions."

Bloomberg Intelligence Senior ETF Analyst Eric Balchunas calls HNDL's 7% yield "really juicy" but adds that "it's pretty expensive, and there's another product that does something similar and pays close to the same yield."

HNDL's expense ratio is higher than those of comparable ETFs, with an annual gross expense ratio and a net expense ratio (after fee waivers and expense reimbursements) of 0.98%.

The First Trust Multi-Asset Diversified Income Index Fund (MDIV) aims for a yield of 6.7% with an annual gross expense ratio of 0.81% and a net expense ratio of 0.69%.

As more entrants emerge in this niche of the ETF space, it's likely that options will continue to improve for retiree investors.

Investment Strategy

HNDL seeks investment results that broadly correspond, before fees and expenses, to the price and yield performance of the Nasdaq 7HANDL Index. HNDL's mandate is to invest at least 80% of its assets in Nasdaq 7HANDL Index securities. Because the index consists of securities issued by other investment companies, HNDL operates as a fund of funds.

The Nasdaq 7HANDL Index seeks high monthly distributions while maintaining a stable net asset value over time. It represents an allocation to a balanced portfolio of U.S. equities, bonds, and alternative investments. The index is split into two equal components, with a 50% allocation to a "Core Portfolio" of fixed income and equity ETFs, and a 50% allocation to an "Explore Portfolio."

Core Portfolio and Explore Portfolio

The Core Portfolio consists of a 70% allocation to U.S. aggregate fixed-income ETFs and a 30% allocation to U.S. large-cap equity ETFs. The fixed-income sleeve is allocated equally to the three U.S. aggregate bond ETFs with the lowest expense ratios.

One-half of the equity sleeve is allocated equally to the three U.S. large-cap ETFs with the lowest expense ratios, and one-half of the equity sleeve is allocated to the largest ETF that tracks the Nasdaq 100 Index.

The Core Portfolio is rebalanced monthly and reconstituted annually every January.

The Explore Portfolio component is made up of the largest, least expensive, and most liquid ETFs across 12 different categories, with less than 16% of the ETF's assets invested in any one category.

These categories include ETFs focused on: preferred dividend shares, covered calls, growth and income equities, real estate investment trusts (REITs), utility stocks, high-yield bonds, mortgage-backed securities, intermediate-term corporate bonds, dividend equities, active fixed income, master limited partnerships (MLPs), and Build America Bonds (taxable municipal bonds).


Managers of the fund utilize leverage equal to 23% of the portfolio as a means of boosting return. Leverage is calculated as a percentage of the combined base of the portfolio plus the leverage amount. Thus, 30% leverage works out to 23% of the combined portfolio plus leverage amount (30% / (100% +30%) = 23%).

HANDLS (High-Distribution AND Liquid Solutions) Indexes co-founder David Cohen explains, "We don't like to talk about the leverage part because it upsets people, but leverage can be your friend. Take a low-risk portfolio and leverage it up to a level of risk you're interested in taking, and you have a better overall investment experience."

A Distribution, Not a Dividend

The distribution that HNDL investors receive is not a dividend but rather a monthly payout at a target rate of an annualized 7% of the ETF's per-share NAV. The ETF's fund documents emphasize that all or part of the distribution may consist of a return of capital, meaning that, if necessary, the distribution could be funded by the capital that investors have paid into it.

The return-of-capital component of a distribution has a tax implication, in the sense that this reduces the tax basis of an investor's shares, which will potentially increase the taxable gain when the shares are sold.

The following table shows the monthly distribution history for HNDL over the 12 months beginning March 2021 and ending February 2022.

HNDL Monthly Distribution History
 Distribution Amount Per Share Calculation NAV   Payable Date 
$0.144491 $24.77 02/15/2022
$0.149334 $25.60 01/18/2022
$0.149625  $25.65 12/15/2021 
$0.152834  $26.20 11/16/2021 
$0.15015 $25.04 10/15/2021 
$0.149334  $25.74 09/16/2021 
$0.150617  $25.60 08/16/2021 
$0.146417  $25.82 07/16/2021 
$0.148692  $25.49 06/15/2021 
$0.146417 $25.10 05/17/2021 
$0.145834  $25.00 04/16/2021 
$0.144025  $24.69 03/15/2021 
Source: Strategy Shares

HNDL returns

As of Dec. 31, 2021, HNDL had returned 9.32% per annum, right in line with its target distribution rate.

HNDL Holdings

HNDL is a well-diversified, multi-asset portfolio of ETFs. Its top 10 holdings As of Feb. 25, 2022, are shown in the table below.

HNDL Top 10 Holdings (as of Feb. 25, 2022)
 Holding Name Market Value % 
Cash And Cash Equivalents  11.40%
Vanguard Total Bond Market 10.65%
SPDR Portfolio Aggregate 10.64%
iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF 10.64%
Vanguard Dividend Appreciation Index Fund ETF 6.8%
Invesco QQQ Trust Series 6.5% 
Alerian MLP ETF 6.4%
WisdomTree U.S. Efficient Core Fund 5.62%
Schwab U.S. REIT ETF 5.12% 
Utilities Select Sector S 4.51%
JPMorgan Equity Premium I 4.04%
Source: Strategy Shares

Does the Market Price of HNDL Vary From Its NAV?

Yes, it does. Like all ETFs, the market price of HNDL fluctuates in response to changes in the NAV, as well as supply and demand for its shares or units. During periods of market stress, market makers may refrain from making a market in shares of ETFs and in executing trades, which may lead to ETF shares trading at a discount to NAV.

For example, HNDL traded at a 3.07% discount to NAV on March 17, 2020, when equities were amid their massive "COVID correction." Conversely, as markets rebounded that summer, HNDL traded at a 1.16% premium to NAV on July 27, 2020. Overall, in 2020, HNDL traded at a premium to NAV on 156 trading days, and at a discount to NAV on 97 trading days.

Note that the actual premium or discount of HNDL's price to its NAV is quite small because HNDL traded within +0.5% or -0.5% of NAV on 220 out of 253 trading days in 2020, or 87% of trading days in that year.

How Often Does HNDL Pay a Distribution to Its Shareholders?

HNDL pays its distribution monthly, generally in mid-month.

How Can I Buy Shares of HNDL?

You can buy shares of HNDL just like you would any other stock or ETF, through a brokerage account or investment advisor.

Why Does HNDL Employ Leverage and How Much Is It?

HNDL's fund managers use equal to 23% of the total portfolio as a means of boosting returns.

Leverage is calculated as a percentage of the combined base of the portfolio plus the leverage amount. 30% leverage works out to 23% of the combined portfolio plus the leverage amount (30% / (100% +30%) = 23%).

Who Is HNDL's Portfolio Manager and Investment Advisor?

As of Dec. 14, 2021, HNDL's portfolio manager is David Miller and its investment advisor is Rational Advisors, Inc.

The Bottom Line

HNDL comes with a great sales pitch: 7% target distributions every year with relatively low risk.

Is this too good to be true? So far, the fund has kept its promise to return 7% in distributions each year while keeping its share price stable. But because the fund has only been around since 2018, only time will tell if it can keep it up.

Article Sources
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  2. Pew Research Center. "Millennials Overtake Baby Boomers as America’s Largest Generation."

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  5. Investor's Business Daily. "New ETF Aims To Provide A Steady 7% Annual Distribution Rate."

  6. Strategy Shares ETFs. "HNDL."

  7. First Trust. "Multi-Asset Diversified Income Index Fund (MDIV)."

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  10. YCharts. "HNDL - Discount or Premium to NAV."

  11. Strategy Shares. "HANDLS, Prospectus Strategy Shares NASDAQ 7HANDL Index ETF NASDAQ Ticker: HDL," Page 13.

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