Investors looking for equity income do not need to focus solely on dividend payers from the U.S. and other developed markets. About half of the world's dividend-paying companies reside outside the U.S., and plenty of those hail from emerging markets. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) can help investors access emerging markets dividend payers without the burden of stock picking. One of the more venerable members of the emerging markets dividend ETF group is the WisdomTree Emerging Markets High Dividend Fund (DEM), which will turn 10 years old in July.
As is the case with developed markets dividend payers, dividends from emerging markets equities have the potential to boost returns while reducing volatility. Over the past year, DEM is up 17 percent, an advantage of 230 basis points over the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. Additionally, DEM has been slightly less volatile than the emerging markets benchmark during those 12 months. (See also: 3 Best Dividend-Paying Emerging Markets ETFs.)
Over the course of DEM's nearly 10 years on the market, a frequently cited difference between this ETF and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index is Russia. Russia is currently DEM's third largest country weight at almost 15.4 percent, and there have been times when the ETF has allocated almost 20 percent to Russian stocks. By comparison, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index devotes 3.7 percent of its weight to Russia. Seven countries have larger weights in that index than does Russia.
As a dividend ETF, DEM's weight to Russia makes sense. And it could pay, well, dividends, if the Kremlin can implement an even heftier payout policy. "Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said state companies should pay at least 50 percent of their profits in dividends at a time when the government is not increasing taxes,” reports Reuters. "Siluanov said his ministry would not increase the tax burden on businesses and households but would make up for a shortfall in budget revenues at the expense of state companies." (See also: How Russia Makes Its Money – And Why It Doesn't Make More.)
In addition, Chinese dividend payers have been among this year's best-performing stocks from any region. China is DEM's second largest geographic allocation behind Taiwan. While Chinese companies are not as liberal with dividends as their European and North American counterparts, there is increasing pressure on some Chinese companies to boost cash rewards to shareholders.
Of course it is with the benefit of hindsight, but holding DEM since it came to market in July 2007 has been a winning strategy relative to traditional emerging markets exposure. Over that period, including paid dividends, DEM is up 15.5 percent compared with a negligible gain for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. DEM was also 660 basis points less volatile over that period. (See also: The Risks of Investing in Emerging Markets.)