ETFs or stocks for novice investors?

ETFs or stocks for novice investors?

The better choice for longer-term returns


Which is likely to produce a better return over time: owning ETFs or individual stocks?

This question was posed recently by a 50-year-old reader who described himself as a “medium risk” investor.

He’s operating with a 10-year time horizon and wants to focus on both price appreciation and dividends.

“Is it better to hold individual stocks like Scotiabank, Rogers, Quebecor, etc., or to hold a dividend fund like HAL,” he asked.

He also wants to know if there are sectors that offer better deals right now – he mentions banks, healthcare, energy, and tech.

There’s no simple answer to these questions and predicting precisely what will happen over the next 10 years is impossible. But financial advisors always advise people to take a long-term view. Our reader is trying to do just that.

So, let’s see what guidance we can provide. We’ll start with the ETF he mentions, the Horizons Active Canadian Dividend ETF (TSX: HAL). It uses active management to select dividend-paying stocks. Top holdings include Royal Bank, TD Bank, Ovintiv Inc., Telus, and Freehold Royalties. The fund has a 10-year average annual compound rate of return of 9.1%, to Oct. 31. That’s a good benchmark with which to work.

Competitor BlackRock, which manages the iShares ETFs, has several passively managed funds that focus on dividend-paying stocks. The best of them, the iShares S&P/TSX Composite High Dividend Index ETF (TSX: XEI) shows a 10-year average annual compound rate of return of 7.3%.

That’s in line with other passively managed dividend ETFs, like the BMO Canadian Dividend ETF (TSX: ZDV), which has averaged an annualized 6.7% over the past decade.

None of those returns are overly impressive at first glance. That may be because we became complacent about rising stock prices during the great Bull Market of 2009-2020 and again during the Covid bull of late March 2020 to early April 2022, where tech stocks and stay-at-home companies were dominant.

But here are some surprising numbers. According to the S&P/Dow Jones Indexes, the compound average annual rate of return for the S&P/TSX Composite over the 10 years to Oct. 14 was only 4.15%. The Composite Dividend Index was slightly better at 4.66% while the S&P/TSX Composite High Dividend Index averaged a meagre 1.97%.

All the dividend ETFs I looked at outperformed the indexes.

Of course, returns on an equity portfolio will depend entirely on which stocks are chosen. I expect that many readers’ portfolios outperformed the numbers I’ve cited over the past decade. My Internet Wealth Builder Growth Portfolio generated an average annual return of 22.6% over the 10 years to Aug. 25, but it carries a higher degree of risk than a dividend fund.

To return to our reader’s question about whether to choose ETFs or individual stocks, the numbers suggest that, unless he is a great stock picker, he’ll likely fare better over the next decade with an ETF. HAL is a good choice.

As for which sectors offer the best deals, historically they’re those that are most beaten down right now. That would include technology, financials, and real estate (REITs). Energy stocks, by contrast, appear to be fully priced or in some cases overvalued. The S&P/TSX Capped Energy Index is ahead almost 45% year-to-date. There’s not much upside there.

Gordon Pape is one of Canada’s best-known personal finance commentators and investment experts. He is the publisher of The Internet Wealth Builder and The Income Investor newsletters, which are available through the Building Wealth website. To take advantage of a 50% saving on a trial subscription and receive the special report “The Tumultuous Twenties,” go to

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Notes and Disclaimer

Content © 2022 by Gordon Pape Enterprises. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. The foregoing is for general information purposes only and is the opinion of the writer. Securities mentioned carry risk of loss, and no guarantee of performance is made or implied. This information is not intended to provide specific personalized advice including, without limitation, investment, financial, legal, accounting, or tax advice. Always seek advice from your own financial advisor before making investment decisions.