The FlexShares International Quality Dividend Defensive Index Fund (IQDE) is part of Northern Trust’s stable of proprietary factor strategies. This one has an international flair. The fund follows a Northern Trust index that selects dividend-paying companies in developed and emerging markets outside the U.S. Simple enough, but then the index weights the portfolio toward companies that earned the highest “dividend quality” scores. To prevent unintentional concentrations, the methodology caps the weighting of individual securities, industry groups, sectors and regions. Lastly, the fund aims for lower market beta — jargon used to describe how volatile performance is relative to the market. It’s another way of saying IQDE tries to be less risky than the market.
Investors can be excused for confusing IQDE with its sister funds: the FlexShares International Quality Dividend Dynamic Index Fund (IQDY) and the FlexShares International Quality Dividend Index Fund (IQDF). Like FlexShares’ domestic variations on the same theme, the three funds are distinguished by their approach to market beta. IQDE aims for a little less risk than the market, IQDY for a little more, and IQDF tries to match it. In practice, all three funds share many of the same top holdings, including Royal Bank of Canada, GlaxoSmithKline and L’Oreal. The difference comes down to weighting, with IQDY leaning a little more on volatile tech stocks than IQDE and IQDF.
Most FlexShares funds charge a premium for the Northern Trust expertise, but the FlexShares international dividend ETFs are priced competitively. Still, they are multiples more expensive than plain-vanilla international equity ETFs. Is it worth it? Investors can look at it several different ways. There are other international factor strategies out there, like the Vident International Equity Fund (VIDI) or the highly-concentrated (and extremely expensive) First Trust Dorsey Wright International Focus 5 ETF. There are plenty of other international dividend ETFs like the WisdomTree Global ex-U.S. Quality Dividend Growth Fund (DNL), the SPDR S&P International Dividend ETF (DWX), or the iShares International Select Dividend ETF (IDV). There are dividend-focused funds that mix U.S. and international exposure, like the SPDR S&P Global Dividend ETF (WDIV) and the GlobalX SuperDividend ETF (SDIV). Lastly, investors might want to compare returns and portfolio with an ultra-low-cost international index fund, like the iShares Core MSCI Total International Stock ETF (IXUS), which lacks fancy factors but offers more liquidity at a fraction of the price.