There are dozens of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) offering investors exposure to dividend stocks. Among these ETFs, two weighting strategies are prevalent: weighting by yield and weighting by dividend growth. The latter approach often involves examining the length of various stocks' payout increase streaks.
There are environments in which high-yield dividend payers work, notably when interest rates are low. Part of the reason for this is that many high-yield dividend-paying stocks hail from sectors that are highly sensitive to interest rate changes, namely consumer staples, telecom and utilities. Data suggest that dividend growers, accessible via an array of ETFs such as the ProShares S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats ETF (NOBL), consistently work across various interest rate environments. (See also: The Power of Dividend Growth.)
NOBL's strategy is straightforward. The ETF tracks the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats Index, which requires member firms to have a minimum dividend increase streak of 25 years. Due to that lofty requirement, NOBL holds just 51 stocks. High dividend yield strategies "tend to have significant weightings in sectors that are highly sensitive to interest rate movements, thus introducing interest rate risk into the equity allocation," said ProShares. "On the other hand, strategies focused on stocks that have grown their dividends consistently (but don't always have the highest yields) may provide an all-weather dividend solution – one that has the potential to perform well regardless of the direction of rates."
Historical data confirm that NOBL's underlying index has outpaced a rival high-yield dividend index over the past decade across falling and rising rate environments. NOBL debuted in late 2013, and at the end of the first quarter of 2017, the ETF had $2.9 billion in assets under management, helped by year-to-date inflows of more than $175 million. While NOBL allocates over a quarter of its weight to consumer staples stocks, its exposure to other high-dividend sectors is slight. For example, utilities and telecom names combine for barely more than 3 percent of the ETF's weight, and rate-sensitive real estate stocks are not found in the fund. (See also: How to Invest in S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats.)
While high-dividend ETFs "provide the higher income many investors crave, they tend to be sensitive to interest rate movements. The latter, on the other hand, offer all-weather potential, having performed well in a variety of interest rate environments," said ProShares, referring to dividend growth strategies. NOBL has a trailing-12-month dividend yield of almost 2 percent, which is slightly ahead of the S&P 500 but below the utilities sector and the yield on 10-year Treasuries. (See also: New Additions for a Dividend Growth ETF.)