Altria

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Mid- and small-cap names dominated our list of dividend increasers to end August, but the big exception was Altria ( MO). The $56 billion tobacco company announced a 7.9% dividend increase last week, ratcheting the firm's yield to 6.05%. That means that with dividends factored in, the stock has generated total returns of 13.3% so far in 2011 -- that's an impressive feat.

Altria has been shaking up its business in recent years, splitting off nontobacco divisions like Kraft Foods ( KFT) into separate businesses, and doing the same with its growth-centric international division, now Philip Morris International ( PM). The result is a firm that currently holds the top spot in the U.S. tobacco industry, a market that Altria currently controls half of. The U.S. is a difficult market for tobacco firms, given the effectiveness of anti-smoking campaigns in recent years and continual regulatory challenges. Still, this firm's sticky customer base should continue to drive revenue for the foreseeable future.

Despite Altria's sale of noncore businesses in recent years, the company has retained its 27.1% stake in SABMiller ( SBMRY), the beverage stock that Altria sold Miller Brewing to in the early 2000s. It's among a handful of other "sin stock" related businesses that the company held onto. Altria's dividend payouts are impressive right now, and massive cash-generation capabilities should keep them flowing for the foreseeable future. That said, investors should keep a close eye on sales as the firm's core market contracts.

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