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These relatively new Canadian dividend ETFs are worth a look

John Heinzl is the dividend investor for Globe Investor's Strategy Lab. Follow his contributions here. You can see his model portfolio here.

In last week's column, I discussed Canadian dividend exchange-traded funds with a track record of at least five years.

Today, I'll be looking at a group of dividend ETFs that haven't been around as long but may still be worthy of consideration. (I've also included the PowerShares Canadian Dividend Index ETF, which was erroneously left out of last week's column.)

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Dividend ETFs are a great solution for investors who don't have the time, knowledge or desire to pick specific stocks. They have (generally) low costs, provide instant diversification and require less monitoring than a portfolio of individual securities. What's more, because ETFs hold a basket of shares, they reduce emotional factors such as fear, greed and regret that can influence individual stock decisions and play havoc with an investing plan.

But you still need to do your homework before plunging into dividend ETFs. With that in mind, here is another batch of funds to consider. A few notes: I've included only ETFs with assets of at least $10-million; all total returns are for the period ended Feb. 28 and assume dividends were reinvested; yields represent total cash distributions for the previous 12 months divided by the closing unit price on March 13.

Purpose Core Dividend Fund (PDF)

Assets: $480.7-million

Inception: Sept. 3, 2013

Yield: 3.3 per cent

Mgt. expense ratio (MER): 0.67 per cent

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Holdings: 40

The Purpose Core Dividend Fund (available as an ETF or mutual fund) is unique in that it provides exposure to both Canadian and U.S. dividend stocks, the latter hedged for currency. PDF's rules-based methodology screens for companies with attractive yields and the ability to grow their dividends, while avoiding those with low financial strength and limited capacity for growth. The 12.9-per-cent annualized return since inception topped the S&P/TSX composite index's return of about 8.8 per cent but trailed the S&P 500's return of about 13.5 per cent. Diversification is excellent, thanks to the equal-weighting of companies and a cap of 20 per cent on any one sector. Another plus: Because of the corporate class structure, distributions are taxed advantageously as eligible dividends or capital gains but not as foreign income.

Vanguard FTSE Canadian High Dividend Yield Index ETF (VDY)

Assets: $377.6-million

Inception: Nov. 2, 2012

Yield: 3.2 per cent

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MER: 0.22 per cent

Holdings: 70

VDY's low MER is a definite plus. But the ETF's excessive sector concentration is a concern: As of Jan. 31, the Big Six banks accounted for about 50 per cent of the fund and the total financial-sector weighting – including insurers, asset managers and others – was nearly 64 per cent. That compares with 18.5 per cent for energy and just 5 per cent or less for each of utilities, telecoms, consumer stocks, materials and industrials. So far, the heavy weighting of banks has paid off: VDY's annualized total return, since inception, of 10.6 per cent topped the S&P/TSX composite index's return about 8.3 per cent. But if the banks stumble, this ETF will suffer.

RBC Quant Canadian Dividend Leaders ETF (RCD)

Assets: $118-million

Inception: January, 2014

Yield: 3.6 per cent

MER: 0.43 per cent

Holdings: 63

RCD employs a rules-based methodology to identify companies with "strong balance sheets, sustainable dividends and the potential for dividend growth." The top holdings include many of the usual suspects – banks, telecoms, insurers – and diversification is good, with total financial exposure at about 28 per cent, followed by energy and real estate at about 20 per cent each, telecoms at 11 per cent and utilities at about 9 per cent. However, the ETF's three-year annualized total return of 4 per cent didn't keep up with the S&P/TSX composite index's return of about 5.8 per cent over the same period.

First Asset Active Canadian Dividend ETF (FDV)

Assets: $30.4-million

Inception: Sept. 3, 2014

Yield: 3.9 per cent

MER: 0.95 per cent

Holdings: 42

Unlike most ETFs that passively track an index or follow a rules-based methodology, FDV employs an active manager who buys and sells stocks. And boy, has the manager ever been active: As of June 30, 2016, FDV's annual turnover rate was about 140 per cent – indicating that the entire value of the portfolio was turned over more than once. If you add the fund's already high MER of 0.95 per cent (a reflection of its costs being spread over a relatively small asset base) to its trading expense ratio of 0.22 per cent, the total expense drag is 1.17 per cent. That may help to explain why FDV's annualized total return of 1.7 per cent since inception trailed the S&P/TSX composite index's return of 2.3 per cent.

PowerShares Canadian Dividend Index ETF (PDC)

Assets: $138-million

Inception: June 16, 2011

Yield: 3.8 per cent

MER: 0.55 per cent

Holdings: 43

PDC seeks to replicate, before expenses, the performance of the Nasdaq Select Canadian Dividend Index, which consists of companies that have paid rising – or steady – dividends for at least five consecutive years. To improve diversification, the index uses a modified market cap weighting that limits any one security to 8 per cent at each quarterly rebalancing. PDC's fairly robust exposure to banks (currently about 30 per cent) and the generally high quality of the telecoms, pipelines, utilities, infrastructure and real estate stocks in the index have helped this ETF post an excellent five-year annual total return of 11.1 per cent, beating the S&P/TSX composite index's annual total return of about 7.2 per cent over the same period.

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About the Author
Investment Reporter and Columnist

John Heinzl has been writing about business and investing since 1990. A native of Hamilton, he earned a master's degree from the University of Western Ontario's Graduate School of Journalism and completed the Canadian Securities Course with honours. More

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