BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- In spite of the negative tenor that stocks have shown investors in 2011, it's been a strong year for dividend stocks. That may seem surprising, but the statistics do a better job of telling the whole story: While the S&P 500 is down 3.3% on the year as I write, the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats Index has already generated positive gains of 4.79%.You read that right. Investing in a portfolio of stable dividends would have produced positive gains that knocked flight to quality investments, like treasuries, out of the water. This quarter in particular, as investors have struggled with broad market price swings, S&P 500 constituents have paid out the biggest aggregate dividends in more than three years. That's a very positive trend considering the fact that corporate America is sitting on a record hoard of cash right now. While anxious investors flee from stocks, now's the perfect opportunity to find some dividend bargains in the broad market. >>5 Big Stocks to Trade for End-of-Year Gains In the past, that's been a pretty good bet: over the last 36 years, dividend stocks have outperformed the rest of the S&P 500 by 2.5% annually, and they outperformed nonpayers by nearly 8% every year, all while paying out cash to their shareholders, according to data compiled by Ned Davis Research. The numbers are even more compelling when looking at companies that consistently increase their payouts. That's why we pay close attention to the firms that are shoveling more corporate cash to shareholders each week. With that, here's a look at seven of the stocks that hiked payouts in the last week.
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