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By Jonas Elmerraji

BALTIMORE ( TheStreet) -- Now that earnings season is in full swing for Wall Street's biggest companies, dividend declarations are coming out in full force as well. And this past week has seen more dividend hikes than we've had in a very long time. All told, 22 companies announced increases in their payouts to shareholders last week. And with consumer concerns about the recovery still playing a big part in investment choices, higher dividends do a good job of quelling doubts that things are getting "less worse."

We're also seeing a continuing trend of more and more large-cap companies announcing higher dividends. Last week, some of the biggest blue chips on the Street announced that they were sharing more profits with shareholders.

Increasing dividends is a significant development that investors shouldn't overlook, whether they've focused on dividends in the past or not. Historically, companies that pay dividends materially outperform those that don't, and when the market turns bearish, dividends could be the only semblance of return that investors see for a while.

That's why every week Stockpickr reviews recent dividend declarations and compiles a portfolio of dividend-increasers. These stocks represent some of the most enticing investments on the market right now.

One of the dividend hikes on everyone's mind last week was from Visa ( V), the nearly ubiquitous electronic payment network. The company raised its dividend 19% to 12.5 cents for shareholders of record on Nov. 16. Visa now offers a 0.7% dividend.

Visa's dividend hike isn't out of order considering the company's stellar performance amid the global recession. Indeed, the credit crunch hasn't taken as large of a bite out of the company's business as many would have assumed. While the credit crunch has prompted many consumers to ditch credit cards for the most part, the space has been filled by debit -- and with an abundance of Visa-branded debit cards available, Visa has been able to pick up transactions that once went to companies such as American Express ( AXP) and Mastercard ( MA).

From its IPO in early 2008, Visa was a favorite play among institutions. One of the funds that's enjoying its increased Visa dividend is the Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX), which is rated five stars by Morningstar and also holds large stakes in Walt Disney ( DIS), with a 1.22% yield, and the 2.26%-yielding Colgate-Palmolive ( CL).

Investment manager Eaton Vance ( EV) took a hard hit last year along with the rest of the financial sector. Since then, the stock has rebounded hard, gaining nearly 100% in the last 12 months. Eaton Vance solidified its position again last week when it raised its dividend 3.2% to 16 cents per share for shareholders of record on Oct. 30. It now offers a dividend of 2.1%

The company operates in a specialized niche in the investment management world, focusing on fixed income and stock investments for clients with large tax liabilities. As such, Eaton Vance was less exposed than other financial stock when the market crashed last October and was among the first to make a comeback. It's also remained a favorite financial play among the other institutions.

One of EV's owners is the Columbia Acorn Fund (ACRNX), which also own shares of Crown Castle International ( CCI) and Coach ( COH).

Shares of Eaton Vance were trading 1.3% lower early in Tuesday's trading and now feature a dividend yield of 2.12%.

For the rest of this week's dividend stocks, including Travelers ( TRV) and Brown & Brown ( BRO), check out the Dividend Stocks for the Week portfolio on Stockpickr.

And if you haven't already done so, join Stockpickr today to create your own dividend portfolio.

-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.

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At the time of publication, author had no positions in any stocks mentioned.

Jonas Elmerraji, based out of Baltimore, is the editor and portfolio manager of the Rhino Stock Report, a free investment advisory that returned 15% in 2008. He is a contributor to numerous financial outlets, including Forbes and Investopedia, and has been featured in Investor's Business Daily, in Consumer's Digest and on MSNBC.com.