Investors hunting for dividends may have been left disappointed this year. Dividend payouts are set to decline 21% this year from 2008. But 2010 could bring better opportunities for dividend-focused exchange traded funds (ETFs).

Dividend-yielding stocks tended to lag the broader stock market in this year as the market showed its preference for high-risk and tech companies, which generally don’t pay dividends. That’s on top of the wreckage of the financial crisis, which had many financial firms cutting payouts. [Why dividends have outperformed growth.]

In fact, from September 2008 until March 2009, companies in the S&P 500 stopped paying $65.4 billion in dividends. Of that, 68% was because of cuts at financial firms, Ben Steverman for BusinessWeek reports.

Dividend stock strategies are most popular among conservative investors seeking consistent income. [Earning dividends with international ETFs.]

Those who mind such things are predicting that 2010 could mark a rebound. Why? Many of the larger dividend-paying companies have already made their huge cuts. But experts caution that it could be around 2013 when dividend payouts hit their previous levels. [Why dividends are good for a portfolio.]

The key? The economy