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3 Canadian Preferred Share ETFs for Steady Income

Preferred shares are a hybrid dividend-paying alternative to equities and fixed income. Often neglected, but with fat yields.

I’ve met many people over the years who love their dividend stocks. They buy Canadian staples like Royal Bank, TD, BCE and Enbridge for their consistent, growing (usually) dividends.

If you’re an income investor, there’s nothing wrong with this for the equity portion of your portfolio. But there’s a way to get the fixed income side working harder – by using preferred shares.

Preferred shares are hybrid securities that pay dividends (often fixed). Preferred share dividends must be paid out before common share dividends, making them a more reliable source of income.

In the event of a dissolution or liquidation of the issuer, preferred shareholders’ claims on assets are senior to common shareholders but behind debt holders.

The share price of preferred shares can change significantly but tends to be more stable than common equities. This is a positive and a negative, depending on how you look at it. Preferred shares don’t participate in the upside profits from ownership of the company and usually have no voting rights unlike common shares. However, they might decline less than common equities from the same issuer in down markets.

Because preferred shares are often redeemable at a specified par value and pay a fixed dividend, they can have similar characteristics to bonds. Namely, they are more interest rate sensitive than common shares. Because of this, at times the prices of preferred shares can move in different directions to their common stock counterparts.

A big benefit over corporate bonds for Canadian investors using non-registered accounts is certain Canadian preferred shares are eligible for the dividend tax credit. (I.e. a 5% yield on an eligible Canadian preferred share is worth more after tax than 5% on a similar bond.) Another advantage over bonds is the higher pre-tax yield. Of course, this is because bonds are ranked higher in a company’s capital structure and tend to be less volatile.

As you can see, preferred shares are an asset class that belongs somewhere between stocks and bonds. As such, they can be used to fine tune a portfolio potentially replacing some of the equity or corporate bond portion, depending on an investor’s individual situation.

Warning: Over the long-run you’d probably be better off NOT using preferred shares as an equity substitute. They don’t participate in the upside – that’s a big tradeoff for an investor with a long time horizon.

There is a lot to look for when buying individual preferred shares:

  • Credit quality
  • Yield to call/redemption
  • Liquidity
  • Term to maturity – perpetual vs retractable
  • Payment provisions – fixed, floating, re-settable
  • Dividend policy – cumulative vs. non-cumulative
  • Other features

Ideally, a portfolio of preferred shares is diversified by issuer and type. Quite frankly the dumb/lazy investor like myself has no time or energy for this kind of research and maintenance. Instead, I prefer to use an ETF.

Below I’ve listed 3 of the largest preferred share ETFs that are traded on the TSX:

iShares S&P/TSX Canadian Preferred Share ETF (CPD)

This ETF provides exposure to a diversified portfolio of Canadian preferred shares and can be used to diversify sources of income beyond traditional government bonds and GICs.

Key facts (as at May 25, 2020):

  • Yield: 6.05% (trailing 12mth distribution yield)
  • Distribution Frequency: Monthly
  • Top 3 Sectors: Banks (35.83%), Insurance (20.98%), Energy (15.67%)
  • Management Fee: 0.45%

RBC Canadian Preferred Share ETF (RPF)

This ETF provides access to a diversified portfolio of rate-reset preferreds in a single ETF. The ETF is actively managed by investment teams with expertise in company-level fundamental research, credit analysis and interest rate forecasting.

Key Facts (as at May 25, 2020):

  • Yield: 6.81% (dividend yield)
  • Distribution Frequency: Monthly
  • Top 3 Sectors: Financials (59.70%), Energy (22.60%), Utilities (14.80%)
  • Management Fee: 0.53%

BMO Laddered Preferred Share Index ETF (ZPR)

This ETF is designed for investors looking for higher income from their portfolios. The ETF invests in a diversified portfolio of rate reset preferred shares and has lower interest rate sensitivity than the full preferred share market.

Key Facts (as at May 15, 2020):

  • Yield: 6.81% (distribution yield)
  • Distribution Frequency: Monthly
  • Top 3 Sectors (May 25, 2020): Diversified Banks (39.17%), Oil & Gas Storage and Transportation (21.43%), Life & Health Insurance (7.53%)
  • Management Fee: 0.45%

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