Bond, Utilities Bounce Buoys Some Dividend ETFs

February 3rd at 9:00am by Todd Shriber

Ten-year Treasury yields dipped 10.6% last month while utilities was the best performing sector in the S&P 500, but the good news from that scenario was not confined to the iShares Core Total U.S. Bond Market ETF (NYSEArca: AGG), the Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (NYSEArca: BND) and the Utilities Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLU).

Well, perhaps the better of way describing it is the decline in 10-year yields and the strength of the utilities sector spelled less bad news for some dividend ETFs. The iShares Select Dividend ETF (NYSEArca: DVY) and the SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (NYSEArca: SDY) stand as two prime examples.

With Treasury yields tumbling and utilities stocks suddenly on the rise, the tables have turned, at least for the time being, in the world of dividend ETFs. When Treasury yields spiked last year, shares of telecommunication, utility and real estate investment trusts were punished, highlighting the vulnerabilities of some dividend ETFs in rising rate environments. [Rising Rates Turned Some Dividend ETFs Sour]

To be fair, DVY and SDY, two of the three largest dividend ETFs by assets, are down an average of 2.8% to start the year. The PowerShares S&P 500 High Dividend Portfolio (NYSEArca: SPHD) is off just 1.2%. All three have been far better than the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (NYSEArca: VIG), the largest dividend ETF. [A Dividend ETF for Conservative Investors]

Utilities are helping. DVY has an almost 35% weight to the sector. SPHD allocates 25.5% to utilities while SDY has a weight of almost 11% to that sector. Six of SPHD’s top-10 holdings are utilities. Looking at SDY and SPHD in particular, there is a legitimate these ETFs would be modestly higher if not for their large allocations to the consumer staples, which has been brutal since the start of the year. SDY and SPHD have staples weights of 16.3% and 19%, respectively. [Staples ETFs Struggle in January]

Investors should note DVY’s large weight to utilities comes by virtue of an index methodology that includes weighting by dividend yield. By comparison, entry to the S&P High Yield Dividend Aristocrats Index, SDY’s underlying index, comes by way of at least 25 years of consecutive dividend increases.

Only energy and consumer discretionary performed worse in January among S&P 500 sectors than consumer staples. Three of the biggest staples names – Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) – were among the worst performers in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Of course, there is another side to the story that income investors cannot gloss over. First, there can be no guarantees that Treasury yields will continue their current downward trajectory. Second, some analysts see the utilities sector as laden with potential dividend cutters. FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE), SPHD’s largest holding has already slashed its payout this year. Exelon (NYSE: EXC), another top-five holding in SPHD, cut its payout last year. [Beware of Lower Utilities Dividends]

SPDR S&P Dividend ETF

Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of Coca-Cola, P&G and DVY.