South Korea ETFs Could Get Dividend Boosts

Several emerging markets are credible avenues for dividend investors looking for international income. Brazil, China, Russia, South Africa and Taiwan are among the developing economies with favorable dividend policies, growing payouts or both traits.

On the other hand, South Korea has traditionally been an undesirable destination for investors requiring solid yields from their emerging markets investments. South Korea’s dividend yield is paltry compared to an array of developed and emerging markets. The country’s payout ratio of 12% is piddly even compared to the U.S., where the S&P 500’s payout ratio is still well below its long-term average despite a spate of dividend increases last year and through the first half of 2014. [This Market is no Dividend Destination]

That could be set to change as South Korean policymakers pressure cash-rich firms there to share more of their cash hoards with investors. Last month, the Korea Exchange, the primary exchange operator in Asia’s fourth-largest economy, “will provide incentives for local firms to bolster their dividend payouts from as early as the second half of this year,” according to the Korea Herald.

Investors looking for yield out of South Korea ETFs could use that help. The Horizons Korea KOSPI 200 ETF (NYSEArca: HKOR), the KOSPI 200 tracking ETF, has a 30-day SEC yield of just 0.65%. The iShares MSCI South Korea Capped ETF (NYSEArca: EWY) has a trailing 12-month yield of 1.37%, which is well below the dividend yield on the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

The possibility of higher dividends sparked modest gains for EWY and HKOR last month. The WisdomTree Korea Hedged Equity Fund (NasdaqGM: DXKW), which hedges dollar/won fluctuations, jumped 2.2% last month.

Aiding the rise in South Korea ETFs is Finance Minister Choi Kyung Hwan’s plans to impose higher taxes on companies not willing to pay dividends. South Korean firms had a combined $174 billion in cash at the end of the first quarter, Bloomberg reported.