Net dividend increases totaled $17.8 billion in the first quarter, up almost 23% year-over-year. Nearly 1,100 dividend increases were reported during the quarter, displacing the prior first quarter record of 1,069 set in 1979. Q1 2014 is 14.2% higher than the 944 increases in Q1 2013, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.
Obviously, the second quarter is not over, but income investors have already been treated to some good news throughout the current quarter. Positive dividend headlines this quarter include an almost 8% payout hike from Apple (NasdaqGS: AAPL), which makes the iPad maker the largest dividend payer in the S&P 500. [Big Dividend Growth With ETFs]
Speaking of the largest U.S. dividend payers, plenty of exchange traded funds offer ample exposure to those stocks, including the WisdomTree Total Dividend Fund (NYSEArca: DTD). Home to almost $429 million in assets under management, DTD touched a new all-time high earlier Wednesday, indicating it is among the dividend ETFs benefiting from ongoing cheery dividend news.
DTD, which is just a couple weeks away from its eighth anniversary, is higher by nearly 5% this year. DTD has not only benefited from investors favoring value stocks, but from many of those value names delivering dividend increases. [An Overlooked Value ETF]
A look at DTD’s top-10 holdings, a group that combines for nearly 23% of the ETF’s weight, reads like a who’s who of the largest U.S. dividend payers. According to Factset data, at the end of the first quarter the 10 largest dividend payers in the S&P 500 were Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM), Apple, AT&T (NYSE: T), Microsoft (NasdaqGS: MSFT), General Electric (NYSE: GE), Chevron (NYSE: CVX), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE).
Nine of those stocks, Pfizer is the outlier, are found among DTD’s top-10 holdings. Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is the stock that appears in DTD’s top-10 lineup over Pfizer, but that is not a bad tradeoff. The telecom giant has a lengthy dividend increase history, yields 4.3% and has a become a favorite of hedge funds and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A). [Telecom ETFs for Defensive Investors]
Regarding dividend increase streaks, that is not a focus of DTD’s weighting methodology. The result is an ETF where the two largest sector weights are financial services and technology. Those sectors, which combine for 32% of DTD’s weight, have been recent dividend growers, but even some of the largest companies in both sectors do not have payout increase streaks that are long enough to qualify for ETFs that use that as a primary weighting criteria.
DTD’s tech sector exposure should not be overlooked as a future dividend growth advantage for the ETF. At 14.7%, DTD’s tech weight is more than the double the average weight of 6% allocated to the sector by the three largest U.S. dividend ETFs.