Another fund with a sizable financial stake is the aforementioned First Trust Dow Jones Global Select Dividend. After sinking in 2008, First Trust rallied sharply. During the past three years, the fund has returned 7.8% annually, topping the average world stock fund by more than 2 percentage points, according to Morningstar.
The First Trust fund holds stocks from a broad collection of developed markets, with 16% of assets in Australia, 10% in the U.K. and 6% in Canada. Holdings include Telecom Corporation of New Zealand and Shimao Property Holdings, which develops hotels and shopping malls in China.
Investors who worry about the outlook for banks can try Wisdom Tree International Dividend ex-Financials (DOO), which yields 4.0%. The fund holds no financials.
Cautious investors have considerable reasons for avoiding banks. While balance sheets have improved since the financial crisis, many European institutions pose question marks. Banks are big holders of sovereign bonds, which could sink if the debt crisis worsens.The banks could also be hit if the European economy slips deeper into recession and mortgage defaults rise. The Wisdom Tree fund has big stakes in communications companies, such as France Telecom, and health companies, including UK pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. Dividend stocks can be especially appealing in the emerging markets. Companies that pay rich dividends tend to be mature businesses with steady balance sheets. That can provide an important advantage in regions where stocks are volatile and corporate governance may be shaky. One of the biggest funds in the category is Wisdom Tree Emerging Markets Equity Income (DEM), which has $4.4 billion in assets and yields 4.0%. Investors flocked to the fund after it proved relatively resilient in the financial crisis. During 2008, Wisdom Tree outdid the average emerging markets fund by 14 percentage points. Holdings in the Wisdom Tree portfolio must rank in the 30% of stocks with the highest yields. Stocks that pay out the greatest total dividends are weighted most heavily. The list of top 10 holdings includes such giants as Russian gas producer Gazprom and China Construction Bank. This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.