BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- If you're a dividend investor, Ben Bernanke sent an important message to you on Wednesday: It's time to buy dividend stocks with both hands.
The decision to skip QE3 -- and to keep interest rates near all-time lows -- is significant (albeit not unexpected). It means that investors who want to actually make money need think about returns on capital again, and not just returns of capital. With inflation being held well above 2%, treasuries are paying negative real yields right now, and dividends are providing investors with one of the only sources of relief.
And why shouldn't they? Cash holdings among S&P 500 companies are at all time highs, and so are corporate profits. Management teams that don't want to see that money disappear have to deploy that cash - and more and more, they're opting to do it with bigger dividend payouts for shareholders.The result is that today, the S&P 500 pays out a bigger cash dividend than it has at any time in history - and yields are higher than they've been in the last two decades. >>ACTIVE STOCK TRADERS: Check out Stockpickr's special offer for Real Money, headlined by Jim Cramer, now! 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. 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 recently.