In keeping with the theme of old school technology stocks propping up that sector amid an Internet/social media washout, shares of Microsoft are up 12.1% this year.
That is good enough to make Microsoft just one of six members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average that are up at least 10% year-to-date. In further confirmation of the renaissance of old guard tech names, Cisco (NasdaqGS: CSCO) and Intel (NasdaqGS: INTC) are two of the other five. [Old Dogs Lifting Tech ETFs]
Importantly, mutual funds have been gobbling up shares of the Washington-based software giant. “Fom Q4 to Q1, funds’ stake in Microsoft rose about 2% — not insignificant when you consider the overall stake is about 3.2 billion shares. Quality funds opening or adding to their positions in Q1 included Janus Contrarian Fund , which put 3.5% of its portfolio into the stock, and Fidelity Contrafund , which increased its stake by a third,” reports Investors Business Daily.
The operative words there are “quality funds” because it just so happens that in addition to dominant perches in traditional cap-weighted ETFs, such as the Technology Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLK), Microsoft is a key holding in an array of ETFs that employ quality factor methodology to varying degrees.
One need not look any further than an ETF that explicitly states its status as a quality play, the iShares MSCI USA Quality Factor ETF (NYSEArca: QUAL). In just 11 months of trading, QUAL has amassed nearly $427 million in assets under management.
QUAL selects “quality stocks based on fundamentals (high return on equity, stable year-over-year earnings growth and low financial leverage),” according to iShares. QUAL has returned 16% since its debut, a run fueled in part by Microsoft, which is currently the ETF’s second-largest holding at a weight of 5.1%. [New Factor ETFs Assert Themselves]
The quality factor “captures excess returns to stocks that are characterized by low debt, stable earnings growth and other ‘quality’ metrics,” according to MSCI.
Low debt, a massive free cash hoard and the ability to sustain and grow dividends are some of the quality hallmarks possessed by Microsoft. Those features explain the stock’s presence in an increasing number of dividend ETFs.
For example, the First Trust NASDAQ Technology Dividend Index Fund (NasdaqGM: TDIV) features an almost 8% weight to Microsoft, making the stock the ETF’s fourth-largest holding. While not explicit quality ETF, TDIV excludes companies that have recently lowered their dividends. TDIV touched a new all-time high Tuesday.
Two WisdomTree dividend ETFs – the WisdomTree LargeCap Dividend Fund (NYSEArca: DLN) and the WisdomTree U.S. Dividend Growth Fund (NasdaqGM: DGRW) – feature Microsoft in their top-five holdings and each ETF can be considered a quality fund.