BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- Dividend hikes are continuing to trickle in at a faster pace this month, as earnings season heats up.Not surprisingly, earnings and dividends go hand-in-hand -- not only do both tend to get announced at the same time during earnings season, corporate earnings also ideally provide the cash to pay out a firm's dividend distributions. For those reasons, it's no surprise that income investors are keeping a close eye on their portfolio holdings right now. They have good reason to hope for significant dividend income growth in 2012. Last year, corporate dividend payouts grew by more than 16% -- an extra $50.2 billion in cash. With corporate cash holdings and profitability both at all-time highs, the environment is primed to provide even more dividend payouts. And while some investors think that dividend returns come at the cost of capital gains, the data show that it's quite the opposite.
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