Want a reason to be wary of technology companies? The high-tech sector is the most likely place for investors to get jacked around by uncaring and even fraudulent management. The worlds of biotech research, semiconductor wafer production, optical networking devices, and more all swell with businesses backed by investors who have no idea what they own.
Unfortunately, this leaves the door open for executive leaders who are more interested in share-floating than operational follow-through. Don't think that WorldCom alone perpetrated fraud at the turn of the millennium. There were dozens upon dozens of minor and undetected criminal acts by executives serving themselves rich rewards, fudging their financial statements, and making misleading statements to shareholders. The latest disappointments involve the options backdating scandal, and criminal indictments have already been handed out at companies like Brocade CommunicationsSystems
So how can you invest in a technology company, or any public company for that matter, and feel confident that management treats you like a friend rather than a foe?
The power of pennies
One answer is to look for companies that pay dividends. Business professor and acclaimed author Jeremy Siegel advocates this practice, as do many other investing masters. Why? Because the simple act of paying those pennies per share out of earnings and savings to minority shareholders is a demonstration of partnership and teamwork. It represents at least some commitment on management's behalf to run a consistently excellent and stable business.
It's also no secret that dividend payers tend to perform better in the long run. Siegel found that Philip Morris, now Altria
Another company with a long dividend history is Automatic Data Processing
The ADP story points out that as indicators of quality, dividends may be most telling in the world of small caps. Tom Gardner, for example, told his Hidden Gems subscribers that he loves to see a debt-free small company paying some sort of dividend, because to do so, it must have long-range visibility on profits.
Given that such visibility indicates stability, a dividend is one factor that can help you sort out the haves (small caps heading for mid- or large-cap land) from the have-nots (small caps heading to zero).
Thus, many of Tom and Bill's recommendations are sporting dividends -- like CNS
Where to find 'em
Companies that pay dividends aren't automatically friendly to their outside owners. But we think dividends are one of the great indicators of small-cap quality, and that principle has helped us achieve 23% average returns in Hidden Gems since the service began, versus 9% for equal amounts in the S&P 500. If you'd like to join us for a look at all our recommendations -- plus Tom's top five stocks to buy now -- it's free. Here's more information.
Rex Moore pays dividends to his children each week. He owns no companies mentioned in this article. Coca-Cola is an Inside Value recommendation, while Merck was a former Income Investor pick. The Fool has adisclosure policy.