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February offered investors a continuation of the challenging market environment that emerged in January. Fueled by expectations of an increasingly aggressive Fed in the year ahead and now a Russian military invasion of Ukraine, volatility has increased notably, stocks have sold off and we're finally seeing a rotation into safe havens, such as gold and Treasuries. It's a stark contrast to 2021, which saw investors able to make money in almost any risk asset they chose.

We did an investor shift towards more defensive-oriented strategies in February, including dividend stocks. After underperforming throughout much of last year, dividend strategies of all kinds, such as dividend growth and high yield, have experienced something of a renaissance and finally begun delivering above-average returns again. Dividend ETFs have largely posted negative returns in February, along with the rest of the market, but there are a handful that still managed to remain in the green.

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If you're looking for familiar dividend ETF names, you'll probably be pleased with February's top performer list. You won't find a Vanguard ETF on the list, but popular offerings from the likes of WisdomTree, BlackRock, State Street and ProShares occupy many spots on the top 30 list. Small-caps and international stocks both outperformed in February, so you'll find a high degree of diversity on this list.

Here's the list of the top performing dividend ETFs for February 2022.

Top Performing Dividend ETFs for February 2022.

Top Performing Dividend ETFs for February 2022.

WisdomTree grabs six spots on this month's top 30 dividend ETF list, including two of the top three. The WisdomTree Japan SmallCap Dividend ETF (DFJ) and the WisdomTree Japan Hedged SmallCap Equity ETF (DXJS) both returned roughly 2% on the month. Japan stocks outperformed the S&P 500 by about 1% for the month, but these two ETFs outperformed the Japanese benchmark by nearly 4%. The currency hedging strategy of DXJS almost certainly helped performance with the dollar generally looking strong throughout February.

After nabbing the title of top-performing dividend ETF of January, the Pacer Global Cash Cows Dividend ETF (GCOW) lands on the list again in February. The cash cows strategy is one that has a really good long-term track record, although it's been out of favor for a while as investors steer almost exclusively towards large-cap growth. Focusing on companies that simply generate lots of cash is a smart strategy, especially in volatile markets, and I think we're seeing some of that here. GCOW is the top-performing dividend ETF year-to-date with a gain of 4%.

Small- and mid-cap dividend growth ETFs were on display in February as well. The ProShares Russell 2000 Dividend Growers ETF (SMDV) and the ProShares S&P 400 MidCap Dividend Aristocrats ETF (REGL) are perhaps examples of dividend growth in its purest form, but there are a number of great entrants to this space. Invesco landed a pair on this list with the Invesco International Dividend Achievers ETF (PID) and the Invesco High Yield Equity Dividend Achievers ETF (PEY), which if you've followed this site you'll know is one of my favorite dividend ETFs that combines the dividend growth and high yield themes.

International equities are finally having a bit of a moment relative to U.S. stocks as well. International dividend ETFs in some instances can offer yields of 5% or more, although they tend to still get largely ignored by investors who maintain a home bias. Outside of the four ETFs already listed that maintain a country, global or international tilt, the iShares Asia/Pacific Dividend ETF (DVYA) and the WisdomTree Emerging Markets SmallCap Dividend ETF (DGS) are other examples of foreign ETFs that outperformed the averages, even if they didn't necessarily post positive returns.

High yield was also a theme that followed the broader trend of investors seeking out alternatives to low yielding fixed income. The WisdomTree U.S. High Dividend ETF (DHS) was essentially flat on the month, but it did outperform the WisdomTree U.S. Total Dividend ETF (DTD), which is a good benchmark of the entire dividend stock universe, by more than 1.5%. A number of yield-focused ETFs fall right behind DHS, including the AAM S&P 500 High Dividend Value ETF (SPDV), the WBI Power Factor High Dividend ETF (WBIY), which screens for stocks with positive fundamentals within the high yield universe, the iShares Core High Dividend ETF (HDV) and the SPDR Portfolio S&P 500 High Dividend ETF (SPYD).

Other ETFs worth noting:

Outside of HDV and SPYD, which I just mentioned, some of the biggest dividend ETFs out there that made the cut include the ALPS Sector Dividend Dogs ETF (SDOG) and the iShares Select Dividend ETF (DVY). Again, the popular Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG) and the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM), which lost 2.8% and 1.5%, respectively, didn't make it.

The Virtus Real Asset Income ETF (VRAI) is pretty unique within this list. Its strategy is to invest in real estate, natural resources and infrastructure stocks with a history of providing income and dividend growth. The commodities space has been hot in 2022 and, while this fund doesn't invest in hard assets, it's invested in the areas that are correlated to it. Gold miners, for example, make up a good chunk of the portfolio and those have been some of the best performers year-to-date.

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