Rising Dividend Achievers: Up-and-Coming Stars in the Dividend Universe

Exchange-traded funds offer a convenient way to invest in sectors or niches that interest you. If you'd like to add some dividend achievers to your portfolio but don't have the time or expertise to hand-pick a few, the new First Trust NASDAQ Rising Dividend Achievers ETF (RDVY) could save you a lot of trouble. Instead of trying to figure out which dividend achievers will perform best, you can use this ETF to invest in lots of them simultaneously.

The basics
ETFs often sport lower expense ratios than their mutual fund cousins. This ETF, focused on rising dividend achievers, sports a relatively low expense ratio -- an annual fee -- of 0.50%. The fund is new and tiny, though, so if you're thinking of buying, beware of possibly large spreads between its bid and ask prices. Consider using a limit order if you want to buy in.

This dividend-achievers ETF is too new to offer much of a track record to assess. As with most investments, of course, we can't expect outstanding performances in every quarter or year. Investors with conviction need to wait for their holdings to deliver.

Why Dividend Achievers?
The power of dividends is often underappreciated and worth putting to work in your portfolio. Companies qualifying as "Dividend Achievers" have upped their dividends for at least 10 consecutive years. This ETF is focused on rising dividend achievers -- companies that have raised their payouts over the previous three years and five years, and that seem likely to continue the dividend increases.

More than a handful of dividend achievers had strong performances over the past year. Seagate Technology (NASDAQ: STX  ) surged 78% and is near a 52-week high while yielding 2.9%. (It has been upping its payout by an annual average of 29% over the past five years, most recently by 13%.) Seagate Technology's growth rate is expected to slow and its revenue to decrease in the next few years, but earnings are expected to grow. Interestingly, Seagate recently bought Xyratex, a hard-drive testing specialist, which turns rival Western Digital into a customer. Still, Seagate is hurt by a weak PC market, and its profit margins have taken a hit, too.

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) jumped 27% and looks attractive to many with its hefty dividend yield of 3.5% -- though many are waiting for an increase, as it has paid the same sum in the past six quarters. The company has been in a bit of a rut, posting underwhelming earnings and trying to boost its presence in the mobile world. Still, many see value in it, with its dominant market position, growing revenue and earnings, and significant payout. Investors need to take a long-term view with Intel, as it works to develop sizable alternate revenue streams. The company is shrinking its workforce by 5% this year, cutting more than 5,000 jobs.

Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE: FCX  ) gained 19% in 2013. The world's second largest copper producer, like its peers, has been hurt by falling copper and gold prices and a slowdown in China, but demand from China is improving and rising copper prices will boost earnings. Some questioned Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold's acquisition of several big oil and gas exploration and drilling companies, but that diversification helped offset copper-related troubles. Bulls also like Freeport's new contract with its CEO, who is giving up salary in exchange for stock. That keeps his interests quite aligned with shareholders. Bears are not impressed by the company's free cash flow, though. Freeport stock yields 3.5%.

Other dividend achievers didn't do quite as well over the past year but could see their fortunes change in the coming years. Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO  ) , for example, advanced just 12%, lagging the market. It has been having a tough few years, but for those willing to risk a lot of uncertainty as the company enacts new strategies, the stock is appealingly priced and the company is sitting on tens of billions of dollars in cash that can be deployed in many ways. An article in Barron's recently suggested that fears are overblown and that the stock might jump 20% in 2014. Cisco Systems yields 3%, and it has been growing its newish dividend aggressively in recent years.

The big picture
If you're interested in adding some dividend achievers to your portfolio, consider doing so via an ETF. A well-chosen ETF can grant you instant diversification across any industry or group of companies -- and make investing in and profiting from it that much easier.

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