The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage. By Jim Woods, InvestorPlace Stocks & Markets Writer NEW YORK ( InvestorPlace) -- Earnings season is in full swing, and many of the biggest companies reported results over the past week. Stellar numbers from standout companies such as Apple ( AAPL), McDonald's ( MCD) and Verizon ( VZ) have grabbed the financial headlines, but on the dividend stock front, there's also been plenty of big news that has made investors smile. We saw a bevy of big companies increase payouts to shareholders, and that's a continuation of the trend we've seen so far through the first six months of the year. According a recent post in Businessweek, U.S.-listed common stocks increased their dividend payments to $30.2 billion in the first half of 2011. > > Check Out TheStreet's List of Top Dividend Stocks That number already surpasses all of 2010's dividend increases, which came out to $26.5 billion. These numbers translate into an 11.1% dividend increase through the first half of 2011 vs. last year. This week, the dividend parade continued with the following 12 companies increasing payouts. (We've included five of them here, plus a link to read about the other seven.) Dividend Stock No. 1 - Altera ( ALTR) Semiconductor maker Altera, which specializes in programmable logic devices, reported second-quarter net income that beat analyst expectations. The company also gave Wall Street some excellent guidance going forward, saying it expects sales to rise 2% to 6% sequentially, which means it is expecting $559.4 million to $581.3 million in revenue. Analysts were expecting that number to be just $548.9 million. Altera saw the results as a green light to reprogram its quarterly dividend payment by 2 cents per share to 8 cents per share. The new dividend will be paid Sept. 1, to shareholders of record as of Aug. 10. Dividend Stock No. 2 - Aptar Group ( ATR) Aptar Group is a supplier of dispensing systems for the fragrance/cosmetic, personal care, pharmaceutical, household and food/beverage markets. The company dispensed a quarterly dividend increase to shareholders of 22%, increasing its payout to 22 cents per share. The new dividend is payable Aug. 23, to shareholders of record as of Aug. 2. Aptar also said that it repurchased 600,000 shares of common stock for approximately $31.2 million, leaving approximately 900,000 shares authorized for repurchase at the end of the second quarter. The company's board also approved the repurchase of an additional 4 million shares.
Dividend Stock No. 3 - Carbo Ceramics ( CRR) The biggest supplier of ceramic proppant for fracturing oil and gas wells, Carbo Ceramics blasted out a quarterly dividend increase of 20% to 24 cents per share. The latest increase marks the 11th consecutive year the company has increased its dividend to shareholders. The new payout will be made on Aug. 15, to shareholders of record as of Aug. 1. Separately, research firm Dahlman Rose initiated coverage on the fracking giant with a "buy" rating. Dividend Stock No. 4 - Gannett Co. ( GCI) The largest newspaper chain in the U.S. is Gannett Co., publisher of the ubiquitous USA Today. This week, the company reported headline news of a 100% increase in its quarterly dividend, upping its payout to 8 cents per share from the previous 4 cents per share. The dividend is payable on Oct. 2, to shareholders of record on Sept. 7. The increased payout came even as Gannett's quarterly profit and revenue fell. The company said ad revenue at its newspapers dropped 6.5% to $646.9 million as retail, automotive and national advertisers pulled back on their spending. The news was read as a clear sign that U.S. newspapers have yet to recover from an advertising slump that's persisted now for years. Dividend Stock No. 5 - Huntington Bancshares ( HBAN) Regional bank Huntington Bancshares decided to dish out more of its deposits to shareholders this week, as the company's board approved a new dividend of 4 cents per share. That's a sizable jump from the current payout of just 1 cent per share. The new dividend is payable Oct. 3, to shareholders of record on Sept. 19. News of the dividend increase came along with a surge in second-quarter net income, as the bank was able to set aside less money to cover potential loan losses. Lower costs also helped offset lower income from interest, fees and other charges. To view the other seven companies increasing their dividends, continue reading this article on Investorplace.com.