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April 20, 2019, 7:46 a.m. EDT

You can capture a dividend above 5% and still enjoy stock-market growth

Jeff Jonas of Gabelli talks about a closed-end fund that invests in the health-care and consumer staples sectors

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By Philip van Doorn, MarketWatch


Abbot Laboratories
Pedialyte products made by Abbott Laboratories, which is the Gabelli Healthcare and Wellness Trust’s largest holding as of Dec. 31.

A 5% yield is difficult to come by these days, even if income is your only objective. But the Gabelli Healthcare and Wellness Trust has a distribution yield above 5% and also pursues long-term growth.

Jeff Jonas, who co-manages the fund, described his investment strategy and spoke about several representative stocks in an interview.

Seeking higher yields

The fund seeks long-term growth while paying a high dividend, which may make it appealing for those without pensions in retirement.

But where do you shop for yield? Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes /zigman2/quotes/211347051/realtime BX:TMUBMUSD10Y -0.39%  are less than 2.6%. If you look at preferred stocks with (low) investment-grade ratings, you will probably have to pay a premium for paper yielding 5% or more. Or you could take more risk and go for high-yield (junk) bonds — the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays High Yield Bond ETF /zigman2/quotes/202941311/composite JNK -0.15%  has an SEC yield of 5.85%.

But none of those options offer any potential for growing your investment while paying you dividends.

A closed-end fund

The main objective of the $194 million Gabelli Healthcare and Wellness Trust /zigman2/quotes/208394245/composite GRX -0.71%  is long-term growth; however, providing income is a “big objective” as well, Jonas said during an interview. The fund’s distribution yield (based on the share price) is 5.38%, according to Morningstar. The dividend is paid quarterly and has been “generally growing over time,” Jonas said.

Unlike a traditional open-ended mutual fund, a closed-end fund has a fixed number of shares that are traded publicly. An open-ended fund’s share price is its net asset value (NAV), calculated by dividing the market value of its holdings by the number of shares at the market close each day. A closed-end fund has an NAV as well, but its share price may higher or lower.

So an advantage of a closed-end fund to a portfolio manager is that he or she has “permanent capital” to invest. The manager doesn’t have to deal with a continual inflow or outflow of money that needs to be invested, or in the case of an outflow, make painful decisions about which investments to sell immediately. If a closed-end fund decides to expand, typically it will make a rights offering to current shareholders; they will be offered a discounted price to buy enough new shares to maintain their ownership percentage of the fund.

To enhance the yield, the Gabelli fund has employed leverage by issuing its own preferred shares.

Health and wellness thesis

When asked why a sector-specific focus on health care might work out well for long-term investors, Jonas cited two trends: “We see are growth in health-care spending (twice as fast as GDP) driven by an aging population and emerging markets spending more on the health of their citizens, and people taking better control over the own health through better exercise and nutrition.”

So the fund is focused on the health-care and the consumer staples sectors, and it is not concentrated, holding 122 stocks as of Dec. 31. The 10 largest positions are listed below.

Jonas said Gabelli has a team of 50 analysts conducting bottom-up research to select stocks, and that the Healthcare and Wellness Trust has a value focus. “We always try to meet with companies directly,” he said.

Representative stocks

Jonas talked about three stocks held by the fund.

Abbott Labs

The top holding of the fund as of the end of 2018 was Abbott Laboratories /zigman2/quotes/203724446/composite ABT -0.17% , which makes medical devices, diagnostic equipment, generic drugs and nutritional products.  

“They have great exposure to emerging markets, which over the long term will grow faster than developed markets like the U.S.,” Jonas said. He added that most of the company’s growth in emerging markets has been organic: “They have been around for decades and have spent a ton of time building that reach.”


Gabelli Funds
Jeff Jonas, portfolio manager at Gabelli Funds.

The stock’s dividend yield is 1.65%, which isn’t particularly high (the dividend yield for the S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -0.53% , according to FactSet). However, Abbott is included in the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats Index /zigman2/quotes/210598428/delayed XX:SP50DIV -2.65% , which means it has increased its regular dividend for at least 25 straight years. Jonas expects Abbott to continue to increase the payout in line with earnings increases.

More on Dividend Aristocrats: These 20 stocks may give you the best shot to cash in on fast-rising dividends

“They have a lot of interesting medical-device technology coming to market right now. There is a product called MitraClip — it repairs one of the valves in your heart. They cameo ut with great clinical data that will expand greatly the usage of this product,” Jonas said.

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