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This Emerging Market is no Dividend Destination


Emerging markets exchange traded funds can be part of an income investor’s portfolio and ETF issuers have met what was once rising interest in developing world dividends with an increasing array of new products.

Some developing economies take dividends seriously or at least attempt to. For example, China is the largest emerging markets dividend payer in dollar terms while Russia is the fastest-growing. Russia, for all the criticism that can be lobbed on this market and there is plenty, has been trying to attract additional foreign investment by forcing state-run companies to pay at least 25% of profits in dividends. [Dividend Growth the Emerging Markets Way]

South Korea is not one of the emerging markets dividend meccas. “Not all emerging markets are worth investing in for dividends. One such market that investors must avoid is South Korea,” according to TopForeignStocks.com.

As TopForeignStocks notes, South Korea’s dividend yield of 1.2% is paltry compared to an array of developed and emerging markets. The country’s payout ratio of 12% is piddly even compared to the U.S., where the S&P 500’s payout ratio is still well below its long-term average despite a spate of dividend increases last year.

The iShares MSCI South Korea Capped ETF (EWY) has a trailing 12-month yield of just 1.4%, offering investors little incentive to stick with what has is one 2014’s worst-performing ETFs. [Docile Emerging Markets ETFs Disappoint]

For income investors, the good news is most of the marquee dividend-focused emerging markets ETFs are light on South Korea exposure. The WisdomTree Emerging Markets Equity Income Fund (DEM) , the largest emerging markets dividend ETF by assets, features a weight of just 2.1% to South Korea.

South Korea is not found among the 10 largest country weights in the iShares Emerging Markets Dividend ETF (DVYE) while the country hardly impacts the SPDR S&P Emerging Markets Dividend ETF (EDIV) at 2.3% of that fund.

Even the new breed of emerging markets dividend ETFs skimp on or outright exclude South Korea. The EGShares Emerging Markets Dividend Growth ETF (EMDG) and the EGShares EM Dividend High Income ETF (EMHD) both track FTSE indices and that index provider classifies South Korea as a developed market. The index yields on EMDG and EMHD are 3.79% and 7.44%, respectively, according to issuer data.

The WisdomTree Emerging Markets Dividend Growth Fund (DGRE) allocates just 1% to South Korea, making the country that fund’s 13th-largest geographic weight. Constituent companies are weighted in the Index based on annual cash dividends paid, according to WisdomTree. The index had a dividend yield of 3.94% as of Jan. 24.

Country Dividend Yields

Chart Courtesy: TopForeignStocks.com

Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of DEM.