- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

Mutual fund investors looking to benefit from the proposed elimination of taxes on dividends might consider value funds and utility funds for their portfolios.
The reason is simple these funds tend to have a relatively high concentration of shares in companies that pay dividends, a different strategy from growth-style funds or other sector funds, such as technology or telecommunications.
Dividend-paying stocks tend to be blue-chip issues, such as IBM, General Electric and Procter & Gamble, and they are widely held in value-style mutual funds, particularly those that concentrate on large companies. Utilities include electrical and gas companies, such as Consolidated Edison and Public Service Electric & Gas.
President Bush's proposal earlier this month to end the tax comes as dividends have received renewed attention from investors. The dividend payout represents a dependable source of income, much appreciated by bear-market-fatigued investors who've seen stock prices drop for three years.
Fund investors should keep in mind that the potential gains from investing in value or utility funds assuming the dividend tax cut gets the approval of Congress are likely to be modest, in keeping with the yields on these funds.
"We are looking at yields that are low even on the value side," said Rosanne Pane, mutual fund strategist for Standard & Poor's. For example, Ms. Pane said, the average yield on large-capitalization value funds is 2.41 percent, equivalent to the average yield of stocks in the Standard & Poor's 500 index, one of the broadest measures of the stock market.
Yields could grow as dividend payouts become more attractive and if more companies offer them, but that is certainly no guarantee. For years, companies have been decreasing or eliminating their dividends because investors preferred to reinvest all their profits to maximize growth.
"Bottom line you are not going to get funds that have extremely high yields," Ms. Pane said. "The best thing to do is look at funds that are focusing on corporate dividends and companies that have the ability and the cash to increase their dividends."
Unfortunately for investors, the funds with some of the highest dividend yields those that focus on real estate investment trusts, which are required by law to pay dividends would be exempt from the dividend tax cuts.
There are, however, some non-REIT stock funds with robust yields. For example, the Kelmoore Strategy Eagle Fund A ended last year with a 12-month dividend yield of 18.86 percent, while the Gabelli Utilities AAA's was 10.95 percent, according to S&P.;
When looking for funds that are heavy on dividend-paying stocks, investors should consider the underlying holdings of individual funds. While a fund may be labeled a value fund, it could include shares of companies that are more growth oriented.
Aside from buying more value funds, there are other ways for investors to take advantage of the elimination of dividend taxes.
Investors should think about where they hold specific kinds of funds, for example, putting higher-yielding funds into taxable accounts. They also might put growth-style funds, which can produce taxable capital gains that are typically bigger than their value counterparts, into tax-exempt accounts, such as a 401(k).
Of course, before doing this, investors might want to seek the advice of an accountant to consider tax consequences.
But, ultimately, investors thinking of buying value funds or utility funds should do so because that would fit with their overall strategy, not because they expect fatter returns as these funds become more sought after.
The elimination of the dividend "will be a reward for investing smartly," said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. "It is a good lesson Investing 101 of investing not just in growth but in total return and value."

ASSOCIATED PRESS


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