Microsoft's Buyback Headlines the Dow's Gains

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

A slower day for stocks hasn't kept the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) from keeping up its run higher. As of 2:15 p.m. EDT, the blue-chip index has gained about 45 points. Stocks are mostly up across the board despite a downbeat day from the health care and financial sectors, but Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) and other tech stocks are pulling their weight for the market's gains. Let's catch up on what you need to know.

Microsoft shows investors the green
Microsoft isn't one of the Dow's top members today, with shares up only about 0.5%, but it's sure making investors happy as Wall Street continues to digest the company's impending leadership shakeup. The company today increased its dividend by $0.05 to $0.28 per share, and it sweetened the deal by giving the green light for a stock buyback program of up to $40 billion.

Investors are always happy about dividend increases, and it's not exactly bad timing by Microsoft for a buyback: Shares are off their 52-week high by about 10%. But it's also a way to keep some of the focus off of the company's transition in a time when some investors are unsure of the firm's future.

Can Microsoft be a good option for dividend investors? The tech stock might be beaten down in hardware and mobile circles, but it still maintains a dominant presence in business, particularly through software such as its Microsoft Office suite. The company's business division was its top-selling unit in the most recent fiscal year, exceeding the sales of its next-largest segment, its server and tools division, by about 20% and posting modest year-over-year revenue growth. Both of its top two segments, responsible for more than 50% of total sales, have shown growth recently, and Microsoft still maintains a relatively low dividend payout ratio of just 34%.

This company in transition may not be at its most stable for a while, but dividend investors needn't worry about Microsoft's weak mobile presence, given its dominance in the business sphere.

3M (NYSE: MMM  ) is also advancing today, with shares of the conglomerate up 0.7%. The stock has had a good year for investors so far, up more than 25% year to date. However, 3M's financial performance recently has been lackluster at best. It's folly to expect a broad conglomerate like this to post growth, but while the firm's sales picked up more than 2% over the first six months of the year, operating profit fell slightly year over year for the same time frame.

Blame the company's third-best-selling unit -- its electronics and energy division, which saw operating profit nosedive by 16% in the most recent quarter. 3M has posted decent results elsewhere in the company -- its industrial department, its largest division by sales, saw revenue climb 6% year over year in the most recent quarter -- but the firm will need to do a better job posting across-the-board profit growth in future quarters in order to sustain its run.

Hunting for the Best Dividend
Stocks like 3M have long been pillars of stability for income investors, who know one maxim that has played out over the long term in the markets: Dividend stocks can make you rich. While they don't garner the notoriety of highflying growth stocks, they're also less likely to crash and burn. And over the long term, the compounding effect of the quarterly payouts, as well as their growth, adds up faster than most investors imagine. With this in mind, our analysts sat down to identify the absolute best of the best when it comes to rock-solid dividend stocks, drawing up a list of nine that fit the bill. To discover the identities of these companies before the rest of the market catches on, you can download this valuable free report by simply clicking here now.


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