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.