The Dividend Aristocrats' Etiquette Lesson for Apple

On the back of yesterday's Cyprus-inspired losses, stocks opened slightly higher this morning, with the S&P 500 and the narrower, price-weighted Dow Jones Industrial Average up 0.23% and 0.32%, respectively, at 10:15 a.m. EST.

Dividends pay off
Yesterday's Cypriot flu roiled global markets with a bout of "risk on," but at least one group was less volatile than the broad market: high-quality dividend shares. In fact, this group has been beating the market this year -- in some cases (depending on how you select your dividend payers) by a wide margin.

The following chart shows the year-to-date performance of three dividend-focused ETFs -- the First Trust Morningstar Dividend Leaders Index Fund, the SPDR S&P Dividend ETF , and the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF -- relative to that of the S&P 500:

FDL Chart
FDL Chart

FDL data by YCharts.

All three ETFs are beating the market. Furthermore, it's the stalwart dividend engines -- those with the longest, most consistent track records of dividend increases -- that have posted the greatest margin of outperformance. (Incidentally, the ranking of performance is the same over the past 12 months.)

Indeed, the SPDR S&P Dividend ETF tracks the S&P High Yield Dividend Aristocrats index, which contains companies drawn from the S&P 1500 that that have raised dividends annually over a minimum 20-year period -- a remarkable achievement. Surprisingly, only two of the SPDR ETF's top 10 holdings are Dow components: AT&T and Johnson & Johnson.

That ought to be a lesson to cash-heavy technology companies -- most prominent among them Apple . While it will be long time before the maker of the iPad can be considered for inclusion in the Dividend Aristocrats Index (Apple declared its first dividend in 16 years in 2012), a healthy increase in its dividend could endear it to shareholders both old and new and help reverse the negative sentiment that has brutalized the shares since last September. At 2.4%, Apple's dividend yield is already above that of the S&P 500, but it can do better yet, which would give it more price-appreciation potential for it to square the two yields.

Is Apple worth your money?
There's no doubt that Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever and that longtime shareholders have been handsomely rewarded. However, there is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on reasons both to buy and to sell Apple, as well as what opportunities remain for the company (and your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thoughts on Apple, simply click here now.

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Fool contributor Alex Dumortier, CFA has no position in any stocks mentioned; you can follow him on LinkedIn. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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