5 low-risk dividend funds

Beware promises of high yields and stick with some safer bets.

By InvestorPlace Aug 17, 2012 1:45PM

By Jeff Reeves


Dividend investors have no shortage of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) thrown their way these days. But beware the management firms that are launching high-yield products in pursuit of your investing dollars with no clear mission to preserve your capital or ensure those high-yield dividends continue.


Consider, as a cautionary tale, the recent launch of a so-called "double-dividend" fund that is simply trying to capitalize on the hunger for dividends. And, generally speaking, all income-oriented investors should beware of chasing yield or making risky sector bets that could burn them if the market turns.


With the low Treasury yields right now and the fear of a bond bubble, it's natural to want to stock up on dividend-paying equities. And if you're an ETF investor, you should think about starting with these five low-risk funds.


Low-Risk Dividend Fund No. 1: Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF

Expense ratio: 0.13%
1-Year Return:
16% vs. 19% for the S&P 500
Dividend Yield:
2.3%
Net Assets:
$13 billion

Top Holdings: Wal-Mart (WMT), Coca-Cola (KO), PepsiCo (PEP)


Roughly 25% of the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG) is allocated to consumer staples, so don't expect a lot of jump to shares. That could be a good thing, however, for dividend investors concerned as much with capital preservation as getting paid. The yield is a bit lower at 2.3%, but the rock-bottom expense ratio ensures you're not paying too much to the fund manager here. The low cost comes from a hard peg to the Dividend Achievers Select Index instead of active management.


For more info, visit this ETF's page on Vanguard's website.


Low-Risk Dividend Fund No. 2: iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend Index Fund

Expense ratio: 0.4%
1-Year Return:
19%
Dividend Yield:
3.6%
Net Assets:
$11 billion
Top Holdings:
Lorillard (LO), Lockheed Martin (LMT), Chevron (CVX)


The iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend Index Fund (DVY) provides a bigger headline yield, thanks in part to being overweight in the utilities sector with roughly a third of its portfolio in this segment of the market. The bigger yield does come at a bit larger expense ratio, however, even if this iShares fund is pegged to the Dow Jones U.S. Select Dividend Index.


For more info, visit this ETF's page on the iShares website.


Low-Risk Dividend Fund No. 3: SPDR S&P Dividend ETF

Expense ratio: 0.35%
1-Year Return:
16%
Dividend Yield:
3.1%
Net Assets:
$9 billion
Top Holdings:
Avon (AVP), Pitney Bowes (PBI), AT&T (T)


The SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY) also provides a bigger headline yield than the low-fee Vanguard option, but treads the middle ground between VIG and the iShares fund with a roughly 20% allocation in consumer staples and 15% in utilities. The performance, however, lags behind on a share-price basis. This fund is tied to the S&P High Yield Dividend Aristocrats index, a list of stocks that have 25 straight years of consecutive dividend increases and thus a great record of stability in payouts.


For more info, visit this ETF's page on the SPDRs website.


Low-Risk Dividend Fund No. 4: WisdomTree Large Cap Dividend Fund

Expense ratio: 0.28%
1-Year Return: 21%
Dividend Yield: 2.9%
Net Assets: $1.2 billion
Top Holdings: AT&T (T), Exxon Mobil (XOM), General Electric (GE)


The WisdomTree Large Cap Dividend Fund (DLN) is an indexed fund, not an actively managed fund, and that gives it a low expense ratio that is second only to Vanguard on this list. However, it uses WisdomTree's own index, and that seems to make a difference in both performance and yield. About 17% of the fund is in consumer staples, but the next heaviest sector is health care -- a recession-proof industry that has helped juice returns.


For more info, visit this ETF's page on the WisdomTree website.


Low-Risk Dividend Fund No. 5: Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF

Expense ratio: 0.13%
1-Year Return:
22%
Dividend Yield:
3.3%
Net Assets:
$5 billion
Top Holdings:
Exxon Mobil (XOM), Microsoft (MSFT), General Electric (GE)


Keeping with the low expense nature of Vanguard, the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM) is pegged to the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index and ensures a bigger payday without paying more in fees for management. Consumer staples represents 19% of the fund; next in line, it’s a toss up between energy, industrials and health care, all at 12% apiece. The outperformance and low cost of this ETF make it attractive.


For more info, visit this ETF's page on the Vanguard website.


And for investors with more risk appetite, here are three aggressive high-yield ETFs.


Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com and the author of The Frugal Investor's Guide to Finding Great Stocks. Write him at editor@investorplace.com or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.
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