BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- With interest rates scraping along record time lows right now, how much income is your portfolio paying out? If you answered "not enough," you need to rethink you income holdings. After all, a noticeable group of companies is practically shoveling cash to shareholders right now.
I realize that may sound surprising, especially as negative real yields crush fixed income investors in 2012. But dividends are looking impressive this year, even if price action isn't.
With corporate cash and earnings at all-time highs, companies are doing their part to return value to shareholders. Today, more S&P 500 components pay a cash dividend than any time in the last two decades. And they're paying out more cash than ever before: Each hypothetical share of the index pays out more than $29 in cold hard cash at last count.Dividends are also a big deal for investors in search of the biggest total returns: Over the last 36 years, dividend stocks 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. >>ACTIVE STOCK TRADERS: Check out Stockpickr's special offer for Real Money, headlined by Jim Cramer, now! 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 seven stocks that hiked payouts in the last week and change.