Stockpickr) -- While no one was paying attention, dividend stocks hit a major milestone earlier this month.
For most of this year, investors have been transfixed on stock prices -- and whether the venerable
S&P 500 can possible surpass its 2007 all-time highs at 1565. But while scores of investors have been watching the S&P, they've missed the record-setting performance that dividends have contributed to the mix.
Stocks have never paid out more money in dividends than they're paying right now. Those record payouts have helped the
S&P 500 Total Return Index (a version of the more familiar S&P index with dividends factored in) push through its record highs at the start of April, a milestone that investors should be paying attention to; clearly, it pays to be a dividend investor.
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And with record $1 trillion in cash held among S&P 500 constituents, there's plenty of dry powder on corporate balance sheets to fuel even bigger dividend payouts in the future. Over the long term, though, the benefits of chasing dividends are even more dramatic.
Over the last 36 years,
have outperformed the rest of the S&P 500 by 2.5% annually, and they outperformed nonpayers by nearly 8% every year, all while paying out cash to their shareholders, according to data compiled by Ned Davis Research. The numbers are even more compelling when looking at companies that consistently increase their payouts.
That's why we pay close attention to the firms that are shoveling more corporate cash to shareholders. With that, here's a look at
six stocks that hiked payouts in the last couple of weeks