- First Trust Nasdaq Rising Dividend Achievers (RDVY): 9.78 percent
- Vanguard Dividend Appreciation (VIG): 8.36 percent
- ProShares S&P 500 Aristocrats (NOBL): 6.67 percent
- PowerShares Dividend Achievers (PFM): 5.08 percent
Apple raised its quarterly dividend, currently 57 cents, by a nickel each of the past two years, while buybacks have reduced Apple's shares outstanding by almost 20 percent, worth about $150 billion at today's share price. The amount Apple spends on dividends, about $12 billion last fiscal year, has been nearly unchanged because the higher payout is offset by the shrinking number of shares, Zino said.
The company's yield since 2012 has fluctuated between about its current level and about 2.4 percent, fluctuating with Apple's stock price. In February, RBC Capital analyst Amit Daryanani suggested the company could afford to boost its payout to 4 percent, though Zino considers such a sharp move unlikely, and Apple has played it safe with dividend raises in recent history rather than meet more aggressive wishes from Wall Street and investors.
Dave Nadig, CEO of ETF.com, said investors interested in Apple as a dividend play still have to come back to an obvious fact: "The way to play Apple (or any other company) isn't with an ETF, it's with the stock," Nadig said. "Of course, if you are trying to participate in the broad market you want some exposure to Apple. That's the beauty of a cap-weighted index. If you own a total market ETF your exposure to Apple is exactly as important as the entire stock market has decided it is."
Another modest boost wouldn't goose shares of Apple, or the funds that hold its stock, much higher in the near term. But a higher payout would buttress the foundation for longer-term returns for Apple's owners.
—By Tim Mullaney, special to CNBC.com