By Jeff Reeves of InvestorPlace

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- High-yield dividend stocks and income investing strategies have been in favor so far in 2010. That's largely because of great economic uncertainty, and the safety net that a guaranteed dividend payout provides. After all, if the market moves sideways but your portfolio has a dividend yield of 3% or 4%, you're still making decent profits while you tread water.

And if you want to be in dividend stocks, it goes without saying that you want to be in the best dividend stocks -- that is, picks that appreciate in share price and raise their payouts instead of slashing dividends or seeing stock prices slump. To that end, here's a comprehensive look at 15 top dividend stocks that have just raised their quarterly payouts.

Dividend increases we discussed previously included gold miner GoldCorp ( GG) and food-products giant Sara Lee ( SLE). Although we don't have a lot of big names on this list, there are some lesser-known utilities and REITs and even entertainment companies you should take note of if you're a dividend investor. That's because many of these stocks boast yields of more than 3%, and many of them have enjoyed returns two or three times the broader market thus far in 2010.

Take Cinemark Holdings ( CNK), a theater operator with a new dividend yield of 4.5% and returns of 40% since July! It's not a dividend headliner like Verizon ( VZ), but certainly shouldn't be overlooked. So don't overlook some of these small-cap dividend gems.

Here they are: 15 stocks that increased dividends in the last week

Simon Property Dividend Increase

On Monday, Simon Property Group ( SPG) announced a 33% hike in its dividend thanks to dramatically improved earnings. The Indianapolis-based real estate investment trust (REIT) increased its quarterly dividend to 80 cents from 60 cents previously. Annualized, the move gives Simon a dividend yield of over 3% at current valuations. The dividend is payable Nov. 30 to shareholders of record Nov. 16.

Simon primarily owns and operates malls, and has been hard-hit by the slowdown in consumer spending. Though third-quarter earnings fell on debt-related charges, SPG stock was helped by the fact sales by its tenants jumped more than 10% on the quarter. Shares are up 10% in the last week alone thanks to strong earnings.

There could be more good news for dividend investors looking forward. Simon Property Group's CEO said the firm may raise the dividend again at the end of next year if the trend keeps up.

Tupperware Dividend Increase

Tupperware Brands ( TUP) raised its quarterly dividend by 20%, from 25 cents to 30 cents share. The new Tupperware dividend is payable to shareholders of record Dec. 17 and will be paid Jan. 4. The new dividend yield for TUP stock is just north of 2.5%.

Tupperware is a recognizable consumer brand but has had a rough go lately. Shares are essentially flat across the last year aside from a peak in April and a trough in June. Tupperware stock skyrocketed four-fold from the 2009 lows through the end of that year, but have been sluggish for all of 2010.

Ametek Dividend Increase

Pennsylvania electronics firm Ametek ( AME) said its stock will split 3-for-2 in the coming weeks and will increase its quarterly dividend by an impressive 50%. Ametek's board declared a quarterly dividend of 9 cents a share, up from 6 cents previously, and boosted the yield of AME stock to about 0.6% (these figures reflect a post-split valuation). The dividend is payable Dec. 21 to shareholders of record Dec. 10.

Ametek has been a real small-cap tech success story. Ametek shares have soared about 50% year-to-date, while the S&P 500 index has added only about 10%. Its electronic instruments are used in a variety of applications across aerospace, mass transit, medical and industrial markets.

RockTenn Dividend Increase

Rock-Tenn ( RKT), a leading paperboard and packaging company, declared a dividend of 20 cents per share last week, up 25% from a previous payout of 15 cents. The dividend, which will be paid Nov. 22 to shareholders of record Nov. 9, gives Rock-Tenn a new annualized dividend yield of 1.3%.

The move came last week amid strong earnings, where RKT announced a jump in profits of 36% thanks to higher volume, margins and prices for its products. Rock-Tenn stock has outperformed the market in 2010, with gains of about 15% so far this year.

Cinemark Dividend Increase

You may not think movie theaters would make great dividend plays, but with a 17% increase in its quarterly payday, Cinemark Holdings now boasts a dividend yield of about 4.5%. Specifically, Cinemark increased its payday from 18 cents a share each quarter to 21 cents. The next CNK dividend is payable Dec. 7 to shareholders of record as of Nov. 22.

Cinemark operates more than 400 movie theatres with almost 5,000 screens in 39 U.S. states, Canada and Latin America. CNK stock has outperformed the market considerably this year, up 27% year-to-date in 2010 compared with gains of about 10% for the S&P 500 index. Even more impressive is the massive 40% gain since July 1 in this stock.

National CineMedia Dividend Increase

Another cinema company that's a surprising dividend gem is National CineMedia ( NCMI) (NYSE: NCMI). The operator of the largest digital in-theater network in North America announced strong earnings last week, including a 31% growth in revenue, and a resulting hike in its quarterly dividend. CineMedia increased its payout 11% from 18 to 20 cents a share, giving the movie company a new yield of more than 3.8%. The dividend will be paid Dec. 2 to stockholders of record Nov. 18.

National CineMedia stock has outperformed the market slightly year-to-date in 2010, but the prospect of a big holiday movie season could mean big bucks for NCMI. The 3D craze of the summer resulted in a nice bump in profits for related stocks such as Imax ( IMAX) (NASDAQ: IMAX) and the trend could continue to lift theaters like CineMedia going forward.

Aaron's Dividend Increase

Electronics and home furnishings retailer and rental shop Aaron's ( AAN) said its quarterly dividend will increase 8.3% from 12 cents a share to 13 cents. That gives the Aaron's a new dividend yield of 0.025%. The dividend is payable Jan. 4 to shareholders of record Dec. 1.

Aaron's stock had suffered before the fall due to weak consumer spending, but has come roaring back recently -- in part to a strong third-quarter earnings report that shows growing net profit and revenue. AAN stock is up over 21% in the last month compared with about a 6% hike for the S&P 500 index.

Snap-On Dividend Increase

Snap-On ( SNA), a global manufacturer and marketer of tools, shop equipment and diagnostic software, said it raised its quarterly dividend 7%, from 30 cents to 32 cents a share. That gives SNA stock an annualized dividend yield of about 2.4%. The new Snap-On dividend is payable Dec. 10 to shareholders of record Nov. 19.

Wisconsin-based Snap-On has soared in 2010, up about 25% year-to-date. That's thanks in part to a recession mentality where folks are repairing and maintaining cars and equipment longer rather than ponying up the dough for newer models. Shares are up about 35% since mid-August lows and are pushing a new 52-week high.

Pennichuck Dividend Increase

Pennichuck ( PNNW), a small-cap company that specializes in water storage and distribution in the Northeast, said it increased its cash dividend 3% last week from 18 cents to 18.5 cents per share. The payout will be delivered Dec. 1 to shareholders of record Nov. 15 and will result in a new dividend yield of about 3.0%. Pennichuck has paid dividends since 1988.

The news came amid strong earnings growth -- from $1.4 million last year to $2.3 million in the most recent period. Pennichuck is a holding company involved in the supply and distribution of potable water in New Hampshire through its three regulated water utilities. It has seen decent growth even in a tough economic environment. Shares have outperformed the market with 14% gains year to date, compared with about 10% for the Dow this year.

Kimco Dividend Increase

Kimco Realty ( KIM), another real estate investment trust, raised its quarterly dividend 12.5% last week from 16 cents to 18 cents. The annualized dividend gives Kimco a new yield of nearly 4%. The latest Kimco dividend is payable Jan. 18 to shareholders of record Jan. 3.

Kimco Realty owns and operates community shopping centers across North America. The company has been turning around, despite a drop in earnings reported last week. Shares of KIM stock are up more than 30% this year.

Nationwide Health Properties Dividend Increase

Nationwide Health Properties ( NHP) announced a nominal dividend increase last week, boosting the payout by a penny from 46 cents to 47 cents a share. The dividend will be paid on Dec. 3 to stockholders of record Nov. 19, and the yield is unchanged at around 4.6% for NHP stock.

Nationwide Health Properties is a real estate investment trust with interests in 300 senior housing facilities, 120 medical office buildings and seven specialty hospitals. NHP stock has outperformed the market in 2010, jumping over 15% year-to-date.

Universal Corp. Dividend Increase

In another nominal increase, Universal Corp. ( UVV) hiked its quarterly dividend by a penny from 47 cents to 4 cents. The tobacco processor has a yield of about 4.4%. The most recent dividend increase will be payable Feb. 14 to shareholders of record Jan. 10. Though tiny, Universal's dividend increase marks its 40th consecutive annual increase and a history of payouts dating back to 1927.

UVV stock has underperformed the market recently, and that was reflected in earnings last week. Fully diluted earnings per share totaled $2.65 for the first half of Universal Corp.'s fiscal year, compared with $3.23 in last year's record performance for the company. Shares are up slightly in 2010, lagging the market and other tobacco stocks like Altria ( MO), Lorillard ( LO) and others that are up against new 52-week highs seemingly every week.

Middlesex Water Dividend Increase

Middlesex Water Company ( MSEX) reported a 42% jump in net income last week and a 16% jump in operating revenue for the third quarter. Alongside the favorable earnings report for Middlesex came a nominal dividend increase of a quarter of a penny.

Though a quarter of a penny increase to the quarterly dividend from 18 cents to 18.25 cents barely moves the needle on the company's 3.9% dividend, it's worth noting Middlesex has paid dividends since 1912. The new dividend rate is payable Dec. 1 to shareholders of record as of Nov. 15. Shares of MSEX stock are slightly profitable year-to-date, but have lagged the broader stock market considerably.

Cognex Dividend Increase

Cognex Corp. ( CGNX) declared a cash dividend for the third quarter of 2010 of 8 cents a share, a 33% in crease from its previous payout of 6 cents a share the previous quarter. That gives the company a dividend yield of about 1%. The new Cognex dividend is payable Dec. 17 to shareholders of record Dec. 3.

Cognex provides "machine vision" products that capture and analyze information in order to automate tasks, primarily in manufacturing. This type of cutting-edge gear has been in high demand as companies look to cut production costs in a tough economic environment through better technology. As a result, CGNX stock has skyrocketed 65% year-to-date in 2010.

Atmos Dividend Increase

Mid-cap natural gas utility Atmos Energy Corp. ( ATO) eked out a measly half-cent increase in its quarterly dividend. However, with a yield of 4.4% and a history of payouts dating back to 1984, it is still a dividend investor favorite. Atmos raised its payday from 33.5 cents to 34 cents, and will cut checks for this bigger payday Dec. 10 to shareholders of record Nov. 26.

Atmos is one of the country's largest natural-gas-only distributors (based on the number of customers). Shares are essentially flat year to date, but ATO stock is up against a new 52-week high, so the company could be ready for growth.

At the time of writing, Reeves did not own a position in any of the stocks mentioned.

--Written by Jeff Reeves in New York.

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