After an earnings season that has brought a significant stream of dividend-increasers, stocks are taking a step back, with just nine boosting their dividends recently.

But that's even more reason to take a look at those stocks. After all, a dividend increase is a pretty strong signal to investors.

In fact, a dividend at all says quite a bit about a company these days. With dividend cuts rampant through 2008 and the beginning of 2009, companies paying anything out to shareholders at all were worth some special attention. And those that voluntarily increased those outlays did one better.

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 biggest dividend increases from last week is going to shareholders of medical equipment company Becton Dickinson ( BDX - Get Report).

Shares of the stock, which have rallied nearly 10% in the last month, now pay out 37 cents per quarter, the biggest dividend of the group on absolute terms and at 1.98%, one of the biggest dividend yields in its industry.

Becton Dickinson is looking to many investors like a strong recession-resistant play right now. After reporting a strong fourth quarter on Nov. 4, the company has proved once again that customers in academia, government and biotech firms are relatively immune to the budgetary cuts that have left suppliers in so many other niches grappling to keep their sales numbers viable.

Analysts are predicting that Becton Dickinson's success will continue into 2010.

One fund that apparently agrees is the Schwab Health Care Fund (SWHFX), a four-star Morningstar-rated fund that's been headed by veteran Larry Mano since 2000. Becton makes up 2.5% of the fund's portfolio. Other Schwab Health Care holdings include Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ - Get Report), with a dividend yield of 3.12%, and UnitedHealth Group ( UNH - Get Report), with a dividend yield of 0.10%.

Food manufacturer Hormel Foods ( HRL - Get Report) is trading slightly higher in the last month, thanks in part to a 10.5% dividend increase that brings the company's quarterly payouts to 21 cents per share.

The company, which is known for its processed and packaged food products found on grocery shelves, has been struggling in the midst of a tough economy despite the fact that it offers a much more attractive cost structure than its competition.

The company's dividend hike last week sends a resolute message to Wall Street thatManagement sees improvements coming in Hormel's operations in the coming quarters. Concentrated ownership in the company is another impetus for strong dividend performance.

The SEI U.S. Managed Volatility Fund (SVOAX) is betting that Hormel will continue to improve its performance. The fund, which owns shares of the food processor, focuses on providing strong equity returns while also giving shareholders protection against economic downturns. In addition to Hormel, SVOAX also owns stakes in Altria ( MO - Get Report), with a dividend yield of 7.14, and Sysco ( SYY - Get Report), with a yield of 3.66%.

Energy system manufacturer Roper Industries ( ROP - Get Report) was another company that announced a sizable dividend hike last week, raising payouts to shareholders by 15.2% to 9.5 cents per share.

Roper has seen its shares rally nearly 24% in 2009 thanks to strong fundamental performance at the hand of an asset-light business model.

With overwhelmingly recurring revenues, a staggering 95% customer retention rate and consistently improving analyst optimism, Roper's financial condition has become increasingly robust during the last several quarters despite a difficult economic environment for competitors and customers. The majority of analysts expect that strong performance to continue into 2010.

One of Roper's owners is the T. Rowe Price New Horizons Fund (PRNHX), a fund that holds Morningstar's four-star rating. New Horizons also owns shares of Panera Bread ( PNRA) and SBA Communications ( SBAC - Get Report).

For the rest of this week's dividend stocks, 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.

Now see this week's Rocket Stocks >>>

Follow us on Twitter!

At the time of publication, Elmerraji had no positions in 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.