Preferred stocks are hybrid securities that sit between common stocks and bonds in a company’s capital structure, therefore exhibiting blended characteristics of both asset classes. They have been favored by incomeseeking investors due to the higher yields they offer in comparison with common stocks and corporate bonds.
Historically, dividends have been a dominating driver for the total return of preferred stocks. Therefore, many preferred strategies seek to capture the benefit of higher-dividend-yielding preferred stocks.
However, as with any income-oriented strategy, it is important to avoid falling into a yield trap. In particular, our research in equity dividends has shown that securities in the top quintile of the yield-ranked universe have higher volatility and lower risk-adjusted returns than those in other quintiles.1 Similarly, this paper shows that higher-dividend-yielding preferred stocks also tend to exhibit higher volatility, and therefore an income strategy may require some form of volatility management for prudent portfolio construction.
Against that backdrop, we applied the low volatility factor, which is popular in equity investing, to preferred stocks. The low volatility effect refers to the finding that, historically, stocks with low volatility have tended to outperform their high volatility peers on a risk-adjusted basis. It has been extensively studied in equities by academics and practitioners alike and stock investment vehicles linked to low volatility strategies have grown significantly. Our analysis shows that the low volatility factor can be overlaid with a high-dividend strategy in preferred stocks to manage volatility while maintaining attractive yield levels.
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. The first section explores a high-dividend investment strategy and extends the study of the low volatility effect in U.S. preferred stocks. The second section introduces the methodology of the S&P U.S. Preferred Stock Low Volatility High Dividend Index. The third and fourth sections present back-tested performance and characteristics of the index, respectively.
HIGH-DIVIDEND INVESTING AND LOW VOLATILITY EFFECT IN PREFERRED STOCKS
Preferred Stock Total Return Analysis
Preferred stocks exhibit blended characteristics of stocks and bonds. They represent ownership in companies, but they do not come with voting rights. Given their junior position to bonds in capital structure, preferred stocks generally offer higher yield than senior bonds, and higher stable dividends than common stocks, and therefore are popular instruments for incomeseeking investors.
Historically, dividend income contributes significantly to preferred stock total return. To illustrate, Exhibit 1 compares the price returns and total returns of the S&P U.S. Preferred Stock Index and S&P 500® . From its inception in 2003 until May 31, 2018, the S&P U.S. Preferred Stock Index generated a cumulative total return of 114.8%, while its price return was -22%. This is in contrast with the S&P 500, for which total return followed price return closely, and price return contributed 64% of the total return since 2003.