Dividend ETFs were mostly laggards in August. All three of the primary dividend strategies - dividend growth, high yield and dividend quality - trailed the S&P 500 by around 1% broadly speaking. Even though the higher-yielding utilities sector outperformed in August, the market wasn't terribly kind to the areas that typically fill out dividend portfolios, namely defensive sectors, such as consumer staples and healthcare, and value stocks. Once the Fed made its tapering announcement, investors moved quickly back into growth stocks, while dividend payers were left behind.

The same can't be said for the international markets, however. Both developed and emerging markets have consistently underperformed U.S. equities for several months, and that was the case again in August. Dividend ETFs from overseas, especially those from emerging markets, somehow broke the trend and were among the best-performing funds from this group for the month. The sharp underperformance from China, fueled by the Chinese government regulatory crackdown, looks to have waned and dip buyers have re-entered the markets.

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On the U.S. side, there's quite a bit of variety on the top performer list. We've got a mix of high yielders, dividend growers and quality, along with some small-cap ETFs and a couple of the riskiest dividend ETFs you'll find.

Here's the list of the top performing dividend ETFs for the month of August 2021.

Top Performing Dividend ETFs for August 2021

Top Performing Dividend ETFs for August 2021

The top performing dividend ETF for the month was the ALPS Emerging Markets Sector Dividend Dogs ETF (EDOG), which gained nearly 6%. The dividend dogs strategy is a pure high yield play, but ALPS puts a twist on it by selecting the highest yielders from each of the major sectors.

In fact, 6 of the top 7 funds from August came from emerging markets. The SPDR S&P Emerging Markets Dividend ETF (EDIV) and the iShares Emerging Markets Dividend ETF (DVYE) are among the largest and best-known of the group. DVYE, in particular, has been a favorite of mine and, like EDOG, focus on high yielders from these countries. Its yield right now is pushing 7%.

You heard me just mention two of the riskiest dividend ETFs available. I'm talking about the Global X SuperDividend ETF (SDIV), which simply targets 100 of the highest yielders in the world, and the Invesco KBW High Dividend Yield Financial ETF (KBWD), which tracks a yield-weighted index of companies in the financial sector. Since they're concentrated and focused almost exclusively on high yields, they can be volatile. When they're on, however, they can easily be a top performer as they were in August. SDIV returned a healthy 3.7%, while KBWD gained 2.6%.

Other ETFs worth noting:

The most boring fund on this list might be the WisdomTree U.S. Total Dividend ETF (DTD). It's simply a broadly diversified portfolio of dividend-paying stocks, which makes it all the more curious about how it ended up on a top performer list. WisdomTree lands an incredible 9 different ETFs on this list, including offerings targeting large-caps, mid-caps, small-caps, international, emerging markets and high yield.

The Invesco S&P Ultra Dividend Revenue ETF (RDIV) is a fund I've always found interesting because it offers an alternative to the traditional cap-weighted portfolios. It also focuses on a basket of high yielders, but weights the names by revenues instead of market cap, as the name implies. Doing this allows the fund to focus on the biggest cash generators and eliminates some of the trendier, high growth names from consideration (think Tesla, which is one of the 10 largest companies by market cap in the United States, but is nowhere near one of the top revenue generators).

The Siren DIVCON Leaders Dividend ETF (LEAD) and the First Rising Dividend Achievers ETF (RDVY) represent the dividend growth ETFs on the list. Dividend growth has been a popular, if not the best performing, income strategy in 2021. LEAD targets the companies with the greatest likelihood of increasing their dividends over the next 12 months, while RDVY invests in companies with rising dividends that meet a number of quality dividend characteristics.

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