Last month, Apple's (NSDQ: AAPL) Board of Directors shared the company's enormous wealth with investors, paying a dividend of $2.65 per share, its first such payment in 17 years. Owners of Technology Select Sector SPDR (NYSE: XLK) will be getting their cut.
When the dividend was paid on August 13, more than 20 percent of the fund's assets were allocated to Apple. As a result, Technology Select Sector SPDR received a payout of $8.4 million that will ultimately be distributed to shareholders.
With 331.9 million shares outstanding that doesn't amount to a huge payout for fund investors, but it will boost each quarterly distribution received from the fund by about $.02 per share assuming it maintains its current allocations. Apple remains the most highly valued technology company in the world, which makes an allocation change improbable.
Apple's decision to initiate a payout reflects the growing maturity of the entire technology industry. After more than two years of steady quarterly growth in earnings throughout the sector, tech executives are acknowledging that dividends are becoming the best way to create shareholder value, prompting many to push dividend payouts to record heights. This trend is also a clear indication that they expect the sector's explosive growth is leveling out.
That's not necessarily a bad sign. Increased payouts underscore management's confidence that earnings can be maintained at current levels; the market brings swift and harsh punishment when payouts are cut. Income investors typically haven't considered the technology sector as a hunting ground for high dividends, but that mindset is changing.
Technology is the most cash-rich and least indebted sector in the S&P 500. Tech companies now hold 30 percent of all cash among non-financial balance sheets in the S&P 500 ($360 billion out of $1.1 trillion).
Moreover, instituting a healthy dividend doesn't necessarily signal the death knell of a company's high future growth. In the case of most technology companies, it simply means that executives aren't quite sure which emerging technologies are the most promising to pursue.
For now, investors should be content to collect their growing dividend checks and rely on sales to emerging markets to drive organic growth. With the iPhone 5 now released-preorders were slated to start September 14-we could even see Apple's first dividend increase not too far down the road. Offering a growing payout with Apple's initiation of a dividend, Technology Select Sector SPDR remains a top ETF to own.