BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- As we look back on the year that was 2011, two things quickly become apparent: It was a rough year for stock investors, but it was a pretty good year for dividend payouts.Surprising though it may seem, those two factors aren't mutually exclusive. In 2011, the S&P 500 essentially closed the year flat; a very painful flat year when all of the volatility of the past 12 months is factored in. Dividend payers fared quite a bit better -- while dividend indices like the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats Index finished 2011 with much larger total returns, those raw numbers don't really tell the whole story. Instead, it makes sense to look at dividend increasers. All told, 101 companies increased their dividends in 2011 according to data collected by S&P Indices. Those 101 firms ratcheted their payouts higher by $50.2 billion -- nearly twice the increase in dividend payouts that companies delivered in 2010. >>4 Companies That Are Bleeding Cash And with corporate cash and profits still at all time highs, those trends are likely to continue this year. That's a good sign for stock returns: 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 five of the stocks that hiked payouts in the last week.
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