In 1993, State Street Global Advisors launched the first exchange-traded fund (ETF). Now there are literally hundreds of ETFs out there covering sectors, countries, popular indexes and various strategies, including income investing. A frequent question that I get is, "Why do you invest in individual dividend stocks instead of income-based ETFs?" On the surface this seems like a reasonable question since most ETFs are indexed, tax efficient, easily traded, passive and have low expense ratios. However, as we look beyond the ETFs luster, there are several significant reasons why many income investors prefer owning individual stocks.
I Tax Efficiency
ETFs tax efficiency is only in comparison to traditional mutual funds. Consider, when you redeem your mutual fund shares and the fund does not have cash on hand, it must sell some of the underlying securities for cash to pay you. The sale will generate a taxable event (positive or negative) for all shareholders, even if you didn't redeem any shares. Since an ETF can be sold on the open market its liquidity is not tied to selling the underlying investments; thus, not creating a taxable event to those that own the fund, but didn't sell. Individual dividend stocks are exactly the same — no taxable event until you sell your shares.
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II Low Expenses
Again, compared to traditional mutual funds, ETFs generally have lower management fees. However, if you manage your own portfolio of dividend stock, there are no management fees.
III. Income Volatility
As an income investor, my primary goal is to create an ever-increasing income stream from my portfolio. To do this, I look for stocks with a long track record of increasing their dividends and the ability to sustain dividend increases in the future. Indexed ETFs are forced to buy the bad stocks along with the good stocks. This will inherently increase the volatility of the fund's dividend payments as underlying companies that are poor performers are forced to cut or eliminate their dividends.
Not surprising, individually selected Dividend Growth Stocks stand a very good chance of outperforming an indexed ETF over the long-term. Again, since Indexed ETFs are forced to buy the bad stocks along with the good stocks, often the yield and the performance suffers.
Consider the SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY). The fund holds all the stocks in the S&P 1500 that have raised their dividends every year for the past 20 years. A very small group of less than 100 out of 1,500 names qualify to be included. See SDY's performance data below, along with some popular dividend growth stocks:
SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY)
- Current Yield: 2.3%
- Annual Dividends: 2013 $1.64, 2012 $1.91, 2011 $1.74, 2010 $1.64, 2009 $1.73, 2008 $2.21
- Cumulative Dividend Adjusted Return 01/2008-12/2013: 65.1%
The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO)
- Current Yield: 2.8%
- Annual Dividends: 2013 $1.22, 2012 $1.12, 2011 $1.02, 2010 $0.94, 2009 $1.64, 2008 $1.52
- Cumulative Dividend Adjusted Return 01/2008-12/2013: 69.4%
Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)
- Current Yield: 3.4%
- Annual Dividends: 2013 $2.59, 2012 $2.40, 2011 $2.25, 2010 $2.11, 2009 $1.93, 2008 $1.795
- Cumulative Dividend Adjusted Return 01/2008-12/2013: 70.6%
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT)
- Current Yield: 2.2%
- Annual Dividends: 2013 $1.88, 2012 $1.59, 2011 $1.46, 2010 $1.21, 2009 $0.952, 2008 $0.88
- Cumulative Dividend Adjusted Return 01/2008-12/2013: 92.4%
McDonald's Corp. (NYSE:MCD)
- Current Yield: 3.1%
- Annual Dividends: 2013 $3.12, 2012 $2.87, 2011 $2.53, 2010 $2.26, 2009 $2.05, 2008 $1.625
- Cumulative Dividend Adjusted Return 01/2008-12/2013: 103.4%
Good dividend stocks raise their dividends each and every year. SDY lowered its dividend in 2009, 2010 and 2013. I want investments that will not only meet my goals in good times, but also in the bad. ETFs have their place in my overall portfolio as strategic investments, but not a prominent place in my income portfolio.
Full Disclosure: Long KO, JNJ, WMT, MCD in my Dividend Growth Portfolio. See a list of all my dividend growth holdings here.
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