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How to Weight Dividend Paying Stocks in Your Retirement Portfolio

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Using four of his favorite stocks, a retirement expert explains how to execute a simple weighting scheme.

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Editor's Note: Douglas Carey is a regular contributor to Minyanville's blog section.

About every quarter, I update my weights for my dividend paying stocks in my retirement portfolio.

Let me first summarize the idea behind my weighting scheme. I do not normally believe in weighting by market capitalization, nor do I generally believe in equally weighting stocks. There are better ways to figure out how to distribute the money in your portfolios. I suggest a weighting mechanism for dividend paying stocks that rewards a company with a higher weight as it makes good decisions that are in the interests of shareholders.

There are several variables I use when weighting high-dividend stocks in client portfolios. I will use three of these variables as an example here. They are the dividend yield, the five-year annualized growth rate of the dividend, and the company's debt to equity ratio. Let's look at four of my favorite high-dividend paying stocks:

Note that because a higher debt to equity ratio is undesirable, we don't actually want to weight by that number. Therefore I've included the variable 1-Debt to Equity, which is what we will use for weighting purposes. This variable can be looked at as the percent of equity that is not financed by debt.

It is relatively straightforward to implement a simple weighting scheme using these variables. The scheme can be made more complex by weighting the weights. In other words, we could assign a higher weight to the five-year growth rate in dividends compared to the other two variables. We could give it a 50% weighting, while the other two variables receive 25% each. However, for the example here, I will give each variable a 33 1/3% weight. The weightings spreadsheet can be seen on the Wealth Trace planning tools page.

This spreadsheet is a good starting point for those who wish to have a disciplined approach to weighting their portfolio. But it is just a starting point. There are many changes that could be made including which variables to use, how many variables to use, and the weight of each variable in the weighting process. The highlighted cells in the spreadsheet can be changed to see how the individual weightings in the portfolio would change. Readers can also use our dividend break-even calculators to help them with their decisions.

The table below shows my final results for the four companies I am analyzing. Because of its 0% debt to equity ratio and strong five year dividend growth rate, ADP is weighted the most heavily at 32%. Coca-Cola (KO) has the lowest weighting mostly due to its higher debt load.

Below we see the weightings from December of last year.

As the number of companies held in a high-dividend portfolio increases, it becomes even more important to have a methodical, disciplined approach to weighting each holding. Weighting by characteristics that tell us something about each company's future prospects and abilities to keep growing dividends makes even more sense if one thinks about deciding whether or not a company should be eliminated from the portfolio altogether. If I have 20 stocks in my portfolio, I can have several others in reserve or "on the bench." If the proposed weighting of one of the companies in reserve surpasses the lowest-weighted company in the actual portfolio, it may be time to make a switch to the company in reserve.

It is also important to have a disciplined approach to weighting when it comes to rebalancing. Whether rebalancing monthly, semi-annually, or annually, one should have a defined methodology rather than a subjective, by-the-seat-of-the-pants approach that could lead to having too much weight in underperforming companies and too little weight in companies that are actually improving the outlook for future dividend increases. It also helps investors do the one thing that can be so difficult: Sell the losers in the portfolio.
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