BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- Ten companies announced dividend increases last week, a big jump from last week's numbers as firms capitalize on news-heavy earnings season to announce bigger shareholder payouts.

One of the biggest showings for last week's dividend hikes came from the energy sector. Energy stocks have seen share prices ebb and flow as commodities swung wildly in 2008 and 2009, and now that prices of major commodities have started to stabilize, many management teams are feeling good about doling out more cash to the investors who stuck it out with them.

That trend should also have new investors taking a look at these companies' shares; after all, a recent dividend increase sends a strong signal to Wall Street that a company's fundamentally sound. We pay special attention to each week's dividend hikes, and for good reason: Historically, companies that pay higher 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.

Dividend increases are significant for any company and an even bigger deal in this economy, where management has to decide whether to prioritize balance sheet liquidity or sharing profits with shareholders.

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

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