/Dividend funds got you down?

Dividend funds got you down?

For good reason, dividend investing not only has become increasingly popular in recent years, but also has become more efficient through the use of ETFs. With over 300 equity income-oriented mutual funds and ETFs[1] available, identifying and investing in an appropriate dividend fund can be difficult and confusing for even the most sophisticated investor. However, the large number of funds should not serve as a deterrent to investment. Rather, I would argue that having a clear and consistent framework in which to analyze the various funds is instrumental in understanding the differences among funds. You may consider what I call the “three S’s”: Sector, Style and Sensitivity to rates. Using this framework, we find that strategies have different characteristics and therefore can fill different, but equally important roles in a portfolio.

icon-pointer.svgRead part one of Holly’s dividend series

Two particularly popular dividend strategies are high dividend yield and dividend growth. High dividend yield seeks to provide exposure to above average dividend-paying companies relative to price, while dividend growth aims to invest in companies that consistently grow their dividends. Following the Global Financial Crisis many dividend-oriented funds employ quality screens as part of their investment process. These screens help to ensure companies within the portfolio are less susceptible to the proverbial “yield trap”. For high yield strategies such as the iShares Core High Dividend ETF (HDV), which seeks to track the Morningstar Dividend Yield Focus Index, quality screens exclude companies with less defensible business models. For dividend growth strategies such as the iShares Core Dividend Growth ETF (DGRO), which seeks to track the Morningstar US Dividend Growth Index, quality screens serve to identify companies that have consistently grown their dividends over time. While both strategies provide access to high quality dividend-oriented companies, their differing investment objectives and quality screens lead to different exposures.


Common wisdom has been that high-dividend-paying companies tend to be focused in more mature industries. Companies within sectors such as Consumer Staples and Utilities for example, can afford to pay more of their earnings out in the form of dividends; they are generally more established, have high barriers to entry, and are less focused on reinvesting for rapid growth. As for companies that grow their dividends, the graph below shows they are concentrated within Financials as well as more growth-oriented sectors like Information Technology and Consumer Discretionary. Information technology for example, contains companies which may have recently begun paying dividends with large amounts of cash flow at their disposal, allowing for consistent dividend growth. These sector differences lend the strategies to offer different risk and return profiles.


Below we can see how the Morningstar Dividend Yield Focus Index tilts heavily into the Morningstar value category with very little exposure to growth. The Morningstar US Dividend Growth Index, however, posts 13% weight to growth. For many investors, it may be a surprise to see meaningful growth exposure in a dividend strategy. After all, companies are returning their cash flow to shareholders through the payment of a dividend rather than reinvesting that cash flow for growth. However, when we remind ourselves that firms are growing in order to sustainably increase their dividends year-over-year, the result is less surprising. This dividend growth orientation allows investors unique and diversified access to a market segment typically associated with a strong value bias.

Sensitivity to rates

Higher rates have historically put pressure on dividend strategies. Dividend-paying companies tend to carry more debt, which grows more expensive as rates rise; at the same time, bond yields become more attractive as interest rates rise, lowering the demand for income through dividend-paying stocks. That said, while high-yield dividend exposure has tended to under-perform during periods of rising rates and outperformed during falling rates, we find dividend growth strategies tend to be less rate sensitive.

Below we show the most recent rising rate period in which the U.S Treasury 10- year yield went from 1.47% to 3.14%. As rates rose, the Morningstar Dividend Yield Focus Index lagged. The Morningstar US Dividend Growth Index, however, slightly outperformed the S&P 500. Addressing rate sensitivity via a dividend growth strategy may allow investors to seek income in a more diversified way across interest rate regimes.


Both high-dividend and dividend-growth strategies aim to help investors generate income and add to portfolio resiliency. However, there are significant differences in the types of companies they invest in, and thus their investment profiles. High yield strategies match traditional thoughts on dividend exposure: more defensively positioned, value oriented, higher absolute income and higher sensitivity to rates. Dividend growth strategies break that mold with growth-oriented exposures and less sensitivity to interest rates. The distinctions between these strategies mean they can be used separately or together, to provide a comprehensive and diversified income solution.

Holly Framsted, CFA, is the Head of US Factor ETFs within BlackRock’s ETF and Index Investment Group and is a regular contributor to The Blog. Elizabeth Turner, CFA, Vice President and Christopher Carrano, Associate are members of the Factor ETF team and contributed to this post.

[1] Source: BlackRock, Morningstar Direct, May 2019.

Carefully consider the Funds’ investment objectives, risk factors, and charges and expenses before investing. This and other information can be found in the Funds’ prospectuses or, if available, the summary prospectuses which may be obtained by visiting www.iShares.com or www.blackrock.com. Read the prospectus carefully before investing.

Investing involves risks, including possible loss of principal.

There is no guarantee that any fund or security will pay dividends.

Funds that concentrate investments in specific industries, sectors, markets or asset classes may underperform or be more volatile than other industries, sectors, markets or asset classes and than the general securities market.

Diversification and asset allocation may not protect against market risk or loss of principal.

This material represents an assessment of the market environment as of the date indicated; is subject to change; and is not intended to be a forecast of future events or a guarantee of future results. This information should not be relied upon by the reader as research or investment advice regarding the funds or any issuer or security in particular. This document contains general information only and does not take into account an individual’s financial circumstances. This information should not be relied upon as a primary basis for an investment decision. Rather, an assessment should be made as to whether the information is appropriate in individual circumstances and consideration should be given to talking to a financial advisor before making an investment decision.

This material is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. The opinions expressed are as of March 2019 and may change as subsequent conditions vary. The information and opinions contained in this post are derived from proprietary and non-proprietary sources deemed by BlackRock to be reliable, are not necessarily all-inclusive and are not guaranteed as to accuracy. As such, no warranty of accuracy or reliability is given and no responsibility arising in any other way for errors and omissions (including responsibility to any person by reason of negligence) is accepted by BlackRock, its officers, employees or agents. This post may contain “forward-looking” information that is not purely historical in nature. Such information may include, among other things, projections and forecasts. There is no guarantee that any forecasts made will come to pass. Reliance upon information in this post is at the sole discretion of the reader.


Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Index performance is shown for illustrative purposes only. You cannot invest directly in an index.

The iShares Funds are distributed by BlackRock Investments, LLC (together with its affiliates, “BlackRock”).

The iShares Funds are not sponsored, endorsed, issued, sold or promoted by Morningstar, Inc., nor does this company make any representation regarding the advisability of investing in the Funds. BlackRock is not affiliated with Morningstar, Inc.

©2019 BlackRock, Inc. All rights reserved. iSHARES and BLACKROCK are registered trademarks of BlackRock, Inc., or its subsidiaries in the United States and elsewhere. All other marks are the property of their respective owners.