More companies such as General Electric (NYSE: GE) are raising their dividends this earnings season as they return cash on the books to shareholders. At the same time, equity investors seeking safety and income have moved into dividend exchange traded funds (ETFs) that invest in stocks.

Several factors have driven interest in dividend-themed ETFs, including stock-market volatility, a desire for income and low bond yields.

One of the largest funds in the category, Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (NYSEArca: VIG), saw year-to-date net inflows of nearly $1 billion through March, according to data from National Stock Exchange.

General Electric reported solid quarterly earnings and boosted its dividend for the third time in nine months. Sallie Mae (NYSE: SLM) announced its first quarterly dividend in four years while Amgen (NasdaqGS: AMGN) on Thursday announced plans to pay a dividend.

Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF “focuses on large profitable U.S. companies with strong competitive advantages, producing a fairly well-diversified portfolio of extreme stability and quality,” Morningstar says in its latest analyst report. “In the major test of late 2008 and early 2009, this fund held its value remarkably well.”

Other large dividend ETFs include iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend (NYSEArca: DVY), SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (NYSEArca: SDY) and WisdomTree LargeCap Dividend (NYSEArca: DLN).

Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF

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