Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Diversified Approach To International Dividends

Any investor that understands the merits of asset allocation also understands the importance of including an international allocation in their portfolio. The concept is that in "normal" times there is always a market somewhere in the world rallying. To meet my set international allocation, I have focused on the following areas within my portfolio:

I. International Fund in my 401(k)

My 401(k) offers an international equity fund. This fund seeks an investment return that approximates as closely as practicable, before expenses, the performance of the MSCI EAFE Index. The Fund will typically attempt to invest in the securities comprising the Index in the same proportions as they are represented in the Index. When compared to other options in my 401(k), this fund has slightly under-performed. 10-Year Return: 4.0%

II. International Exchange Traded Funds (ETF)

I hold several ETFs with a large international exposure. Many of these are held in my High-Yield portfolio, where a higher than normal level of volatility is expected. Below are several funds that I currently hold with international exposure of 50% or more:

- WisdomTree Emerging Markets Income (DEM) | 100% International | Yield: 4.5%
- EV Dividend Income Fund (ETG) | 51% International | Yield: 9.3%
- Clough Global Equity (GLQ) | 50% International | Yield: 9.6%
- Nuveen Global Value Opportunity (JGV) | 63% International | Yield: 9.0%

III. Individual International Dividend Stocks

It was my desire to have international representation within my income investments, so I first looked to identify good non-U.S. dividend individual stocks that had an ADR trading on a U.S. stock exchange. To identify these stocks I used the International Dividend Achievers™ list.

To become eligible for inclusion, a company must be incorporated outside of the United States. The companies must be have an American Depository Receipt or common stock trading on NYSE, NASDAQ or AMEX. Companies must have paid increasing regular annual dividends for five or more consecutive years. What I found is that most companies outside the U.S. follow a different dividend model. Here are some of the differences:

- Many Foreign Companies Pay Dividends Based on a Percent of Earnings
This produces a very erratic cash stream. Consider GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK). Its ADR paid $0.543 in Nov/11, $0.821 in Feb/12 and $0.549 in May/12.

- Many Foreign Companies Only Pay Dividends Annually
I need more feedback than this. I would hate to wait a full year before learning a company plans to slash its dividend. Examples of annual dividends include Statoil ASA (STO), Siemens AG (SI) and Sanofi-Aventis SA (SNY).

- Most Foreign Companies Pay Dividends in Their Local Currency
Most Canadian companies pay quarterly consistent dividends, similar to companies in the U.S. However, they pay the dividends in Canadian dollars, so the currency risk is with the U.S. investor.

There is probably much less fluctuation between the U.S. and Canadian dollars than most other currencies. However, it exists. Consider the last five dividends on Canadian National Railway Company (CNI): Apr/11 $0.334, Jul/11 $0.336, Oct/08 $0.311, Jan/12 $0.318 and Apr/12 $0.375. In Canadian dollars, the dividend was $0.325 for the first three periods, then increased to $0.375 in the last two periods.

IV. U.S. Based Stocks With Significant International Exposure

One way to gain international expose without any of the problems listed above, is to hold blue-chip, U.S. based corporations with large foreign operations. These multinationals pay quarterly dividends and generally assume the currency risk. Below are several large companies that derive more than 50% of their revenue outside the U.S.: 

Colgate-Palmolive Company (CL) is a major consumer products company markets oral, personal and household care and pet nutrition products in more than 200 countries and territories.
79.4% 2011 Foreign Sales | Yield: 2.4%

McDonald's Corporation (MCD) is the largest fast-food restaurant company in the world, with about 33,500 restaurants in 119 countries.
68.4% 2011 Foreign Sales | Yield: 3.2%

Abbott Laboratories (ABT) is a diversified life science company that is planning to split into two publicly traded companies, one in diversified medical products and the other in research-based pharmaceuticals.
58.8% 2011 Foreign Sales | Yield: 3.2%

Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ) is a leader in the pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer products industries.
55.5% 2011 Foreign Sales | Yield: 3.6%

PepsiCo, Inc. (PEP) is a major international producer of branded beverage and snack food products. 50.2% 2011 Foreign Sales | Yield: 3.0%


In the past, I had concluded that income investing and international securities didn't mix very well for all the reasons listed above. My plan was to focus on U.S. equities for my dividend income portfolio and use my 401(k) to ensure an adequate international allocation.

Going forward, I will still use my 401(k) for the majority of my international allocation. However, as I find funds with international holdings that pay a stable/growing dividend, I will include them in one of my income portfolios. Also, I plan to add a few more international stocks, but will limit my holdings due to the instability of their dividends.

I am always looking for ways to improve my portfolio, without significantly increasing the risk.

Full Disclosure: Long CL, MCD, ABT, JNJ, CNI, DEM, ETG, GLQ, JGV. See a list of all my dividend growth holdings here.

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(Photo: ilker)

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