Will the Dogs of the Dow bark or bite in 2012?

The new slate of picks is almost ready, but what does it mean for the coming year?

By Motley Fool Pick of the Day Dec 29, 2011 4:01PM
By Dan Caplinger


Everyone likes a simple investing strategy. If you like dividends, there's just about nothing simpler than the following the Dogs of the Dow. But will buying these stocks help you beat the Dow Jones Industrials in 2012, or will the strategy come back to bite you with bad returns?


I'll give you my answer to that question later in this article. But first, let's make sure everyone's up to speed with what the Dogs of the Dow strategy actually is.


Know your Dogs
If you ask investors what they like in a stock, two of the most popular answers would be cheap valuations and high dividend yields. Those two factors are at the core of the Dogs of the Dow strategy.


To figure out which Dow stocks will be the Dogs for that year, you take a look at the 10 stocks with the highest dividend yields. Although there are endless variations on the strategy, the most popular method involves holding those stocks throughout the year, and then taking a fresh look the following year to see if you need to replace any of the old Dogs.


Because most Dow stocks are solid blue chip companies that don't have inordinate amounts of volatility, dividend yields tend to track relative valuation of the stocks in the average. So if a stock does well, its dividend yield usually falls, potentially kicking it off the Dogs list. But falling stocks often see their yields rise -- assuming they don't cut their dividends. That can earn those cheaper stocks a place on the Dogs list for next year.


How the Dogs did in 2011
One reason investors are paying attention to the Dogs is that the list performed very well this year. According to figures compiled by Bespoke Investment Group, the Dogs saw their prices rise by near 13% for the year as of Dec. 27. Add in the hefty dividends they paid, and you'd get an even higher total return -- easily outpacing the Dow's 6% year-to-date gain for the same period and the S&P's flat performance.


Perhaps even more remarkably, nine of the 10 stocks on 2011's list have posted gains, with McDonald's (MCD) and Pfizer (PFE) leading the way. Only DuPont (DD) suffered a loss, but with a total-return loss of just 4%, even that wasn't a terrible hit. For many of the stocks, dividends made a big boost to total return, with Merck (MRK) and AT&T (T) paying dividends that exceeded the price gains they had in 2011.


Big changes for 2012?
As it turns out, the relative lack of volatility in 2011 means that there are few changes expected to the Dogs list this year. One that's a near certainty is the return of General Electric (GE), which has significantly boosted its dividend this year and now sports a 3.7% yield. Procter & Gamble (PG) is also poised to get onto the list for 2012, while McDonald's and Chevron would currently get the boot after their strong years.


As I see it, the Dogs in 2012 will face the same issues they usually do. Because of their high yields, pharma stocks and telecoms consistently make the list, and given that they make up four of the 10 selections, what happens in those industries has a huge impact on the list's overall performance. GE's reappearance would give both industrials and financials much-needed representation, but losing Chevron means the Dogs have no energy exposure -- which represents a big bet on falling oil prices going forward.


Keep it simple
Simple investing methods are often best, and if you're looking for a simple way to delve into individual stocks, the Dogs of the Dow strategy is a good way to get started. You won't always get market-beating performance with the Dogs, but in general, it's a portfolio that can help you sleep well at night.


Fool contributor Dan Caplinger prefers cats to dogs. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Pfizer, McDonald's, Chevron, and Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy has a quiet bark and never bites.

Dec 30, 2011 12:05AM
I love the Dogs of the Dow strategy as a basic strategy but would generally not recommend such a simple approach. I do keep an eye of the Dogs on a regular basis to see which stocks are coming and going. If the right stock gets added and I see it as a good opportunity, like GE, I buy. That said, I wouldn't recommend a strategy of just simply buying the Dogs and holding them. It might have a nice yield but AT&T comes to mind. With the exception of 2005, AT&T has been a dog every year since 2003. Now if the reason for that was an aggressive and constant increase in the dividend, I would be all over it but that isn't really the case for AT&T. It is just flat out a dog. You also would have owned General Motors stock from 1997- 2008. Ouch!!! Point is that it is a good concept to understand and, in general, owning any stock in the Dogs of the Dow is relatively safe with a nice yield but you have to be smart. Like any strategy, the easier it is, the bigger the flaws. I'd rather get a stock lower on the Dow or S&P 500 yield list than own AT&T (or GM in 2008).

For disclosure, I do own GE, JNJ, and INTC as far as owning "Dogs". I also own KO, MMM, and BA as far as the Dow 30 goes.

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