Archive | Dividends

Foreign Withholding Tax: Which Fund Goes Where?

My previous post on foreign withholding taxes included a lot of information for investors to puzzle over. But unless you’re an accountant, you probably don’t care too deeply about the finer details. Most investors just want to answer a simple question: which fund should I put in which account?

Recall from the earlier post that there are five broad categories of funds you can use for US and international equities:

A. Canadian mutual fund or ETF that holds US or international stocks directly.
B. US-listed ETF that holds US stocks.
C. US-listed ETF that holds international stocks.
D. Canadian ETF that holds a US-listed ETF of US stocks.
E. Canadian ETF that holds a US-listed ETF of international stocks.

To help you make the most tax-efficient choice for each type of account, see the tables below. I’ve specified which of the above fund categories are the most tax-efficient, and which ones carry the largest withholding tax burden. Then I’ve included some comparisons of specific funds. In each case, the pairs track the same index and use the same currency hedging strategy. Once again, a big thanks to Justin Bender at PWL Capital for helping me sort through these details.

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Under the Hood: First Asset Morningstar US Dividend Target 50 (UXM)

This post is part of a series called Under the Hood, where l take a detailed look at specific Canadian ETFs or index funds.

The fund: First Asset Morningstar US Dividend Target 50 Index ETF (UXM)

The index: The fund tracks the Morningstar US Dividend Target 50 Index, which was created specifically for this ETF. The methodology screens US companies based on five criteria: expected dividend yield, cash flow/debt ratio, five-year normal EPS growth, return on equity (latest quarter), and three-month EPS estimate revision. To ensure liquidity, all stocks in the index must also be among the top third in average daily trading volume. The top 50 stocks in this screen are then equally weighted in the portfolio (2% each) and rebalanced quarterly.

The cost: The fund’s management fee is 0.60%. Because the fund is less than a year old it has not published its full MER, but expect it to be at least 0.68% after factoring in the Ontario Harmonized Sales Tax.

The details: UXM is designed to give dividend-focused Canadians a one-stop solution for diversifying into the US market. The index is based on the US Income model portfolio that is part of Morningstar’s Computerized Portfolio Management Services (CPMS),

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Apple and the Dividend Puzzle

As loyal readers will know, I’ve been critical of the zeal with which some investors approach dividends. Based on countless blog posts, emails and conversations, I feel that many investors’ preference for dividends is often irrational. And that’s not simply my opinion—the dividend puzzle has been a popular topic in financial theory for decades.

There are some situations where dividends are clearly preferable to price appreciation. The most clear-cut is the tax advantage enjoyed by investors (especially those in a low tax bracket) who hold Canadian dividend stocks in a non-registered account. But there are other situations where investors should actively avoid dividends—and yet they flock to them anyway. The latest example of misplaced enthusiasm comes from Apple.

As everyone knows, Apple announced in March that it will pay a quarterly dividend starting later this year. Predictably, the news was met with widespread approval—the dividend was called “payback,” and a “reward.” As The Globe and Mail reported, “It will raise demand for the stock, since dividend-focused investors, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds will now put Apple on their radar screens.”

Therein lies the puzzle.

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Did Your ETF Just Get Riskier?

One of the problems with actively managed mutual funds is that you can never be sure that the risk level will remain constant. In an income fund with a mix of government bonds, high-yield corporate bonds and dividend-paying stocks, for example, the exposure to these asset classes can vary according to the manager’s whims. Well, it turns out that same is true of some ETFs.

The iShares Diversified Monthly Income Fund (XTR) uses several other iShares ETFs to offer a blend of “income-bearing asset classes, including, but not limited to, common equities, fixed income securities and real estate investment trusts.” The fund’s web page makes it clear that “BlackRock Canada will review, and may adjust, XTR’s strategic asset allocation from time to time, as market conditions change.” However, in practice, the fund’s asset mix has remained virtually unchanged since its launch in August 2010.

But not anymore. XTR recently made a big shift that has significantly changed its risk profile (hat tip to reader Alec P. for pointing this out). Here’s how the fund’s holdings have changed:

Feb 29
March 22

iShares S&P/TSX 60 (XIU)

iShares DJ Canada Select Dividend (XDV)

iShares S&P/TSX Equity Income (XEI)


iShares S&P/TSX Capped REIT (XRE)

iShares S&P/TSX Capped Utilities (XUT)


iShares S&P/TSX North American Prefs (XPF)

iShares US High Yield Bond (XHY)

iShares DEX HYBrid Bond (XHB)

iShares DEX All Corporate Bond (XCB)

iShares DEX Long Term Bond (XLB)

iShares DEX All Government Bond (XGB)

Canadian bonds

US bonds

Canadian equities


Preferred stocks

A major shift

The biggest change is a doubling of the exposure to high-yield bonds (via XHY and XHB),

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When “Buy What You Know” Makes Sense

Last week, My Own Advisor wrote an interesting post about whether investors should buy companies they’re familiar with. He was responding to a recent article by Larry Swedroe, which argued that “Buy what you know” is a bad strategy. Swedroe himself even joined the spirited debate in the comments section.

As I read the post and the comments, it struck me that the two sides were arguing two very different points. In the interest of being a peacemaker, I’d like to frame this debate differently and find some common ground.

Why pick stocks?

Let’s start at the beginning by asking why investors pick individual stocks in the first place. Back in the days of Graham and Dodd, investors had little choice but to analyze and buy individual companies, since there was no way to “buy the market.” That hasn’t been true for a long time, of course. Today, buying the market is easier and less expensive than ever. With equal amounts of the Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI) and the Vanguard Total International Stock ETF (VXUS), for example,

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A New Dividend ETF With Secret Sauce?

Last June, a new ETF provider appeared in Canada with little fanfare. I didn’t write anything about the launch of XTF Capital at the time, because their first lineup of products was a series of covered call ETFs and a convertible bond ETF that have little or no relevance to Couch Potato investors. However, last week XTF launched the first three ETFs in a new family that will track indexes provided by Morningstar. One of these, the XTF Morningstar Canada Dividend Target 30 (DXM), may be of interest to passive investors who use a dividend-focused strategy. So it’s worth a closer look.

Of course, the Canadian dividend ETF space is already a little crowded, with the iShares Dow Jones Canada Select Dividend (XDV) and Claymore S&P/TSX Canadian Dividend ETF (CDZ) currently holding almost $1.7 billion between them. Broken down by sector, this new XTF fund is about 25% financials (that’s half as much as XDV, but about 4% more than CDZ) and almost 30% energy, which is a far greater share than either of its competitors. It also holds 13% in utilities and almost 20% in telecoms.

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Tax-Efficient Investing With ETFs

If you’re investing outside of tax-sheltered accounts like RRSPs and TFSAs, you need to choose your investments carefully—otherwise you risk giving a big slice of your returns to the good people at the Canada Revenue Agency. Today we’ll look at ways to create a tax-efficient index portfolio using some innovative ETFs.

Swapping dividends for capital gains

In Monday’s post, I explained that Canadian dividends are not always as tax-advantaged as people believe. Capital gains are not only taxed at a lower rate in the highest tax brackets, but investors can also control when to take them—dividends, on the other hand, are taxable in the year they’re paid, even if you reinvest them.

Horizons’ swap-based ETFs—which I wrote about here—were designed to address this issue. They use a type of derivative that allows investors to earn the same return as the index, without collecting any distributions. Dividends paid by the companies in the index are reflected in the fund’s return, but all of the growth is characterized as capital gains and deferred until the fund is sold. There are currently just two funds in the family: the Horizons S&P/TSX 60 (HXT) for Canadian large-cap stocks,

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Dividends: Not As Tax-Friendly As You May Think

If your investments include RRSPs, TFSAs and taxable accounts, asset location is an important consideration. The returns of various asset classes—such as bonds, Canadian stocks, and foreign stocks—are treated differently under tax law. So by selecting the most tax-advantaged assets for your non-registered accounts, you should be able to keep more of the returns for yourself.

As most investors know, eligible dividends from Canadian companies are taxed at a much lower rate than interest and foreign dividends. In fact, for Canadians who make less than $40,000 or so, the tax rate on dividends is actually negative, which means you can use them to lower the amount of tax you pay on other income. That’s why the conventional wisdom is that Canadian dividend-paying stocks are the most tax-efficient asset class.

That is true in many cases, but the dividend tax advantage is often overstated. For taxable investors who have above-average incomes, it may not make sense to focus on dividends at all.

Dividends v. capital gains

Recall that stock returns come in two flavours: dividends and price appreciation, or capital gains. While dividend investors unleash the hounds whenever I make this argument,

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Balancing Your Dividend Holdings

One problem with the two leading Canadian dividend ETFs is that they are not very well diversified across sectors. The iShares Dow Jones Canada Select Dividend (XDV) is half banks and financials. Claymore’s S&P/TSX Canadian Dividend (CDZ) has the opposite problem: it includes none of the banks, and although it has a broader overall mix it is 25% oil and gas stocks.

The newest Canadian dividend ETF hasn’t seemed to generate a lot of buzz, but in my opinion it tracks an index that is better than both of the incumbents. The iShares S&P/TSX Equity Income (XEI), which was launched back in April, simply selects the 75 companies in the S&P/TSX Composite Index with the highest yield, period. (If there happens to be fewer than 75 stocks with yields above the median, other rules kick in.) These companies are weighted by market cap, but no company can make up more than 5%, and no sector more than 30%.

This index avoids the problem inherent in CDZ (which had to kick out the banks because they haven’t raised their dividends for five years running) and XDV (which is hugely overweight in banks because there is no sector cap).

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