BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- With record cash in their coffers and investors eager to make up for a lost year in 2011, dividend stocks are paying out even more cash this month.Even though the broad market is testing its post-recession highs this week, investors are still focused on income, and for good reason. It's earnings season, after all, a time that holds special significance for income investors: It's the period each quarter when companies announce their profits to Wall Street, as well as the dividends that those profits are paying for. This year, the first quarter of earnings is looking especially attractive. >>5 Big Stocks to Trade for Gains That's because even though stocks are testing those highs from last April, corporate profits are around 9% higher than they were at that time last year. Dividend growth has outpaced even that in the last 12 months -- payouts to shareholders are up around 16% in the last year. The result is a bargain opportunity in U.S. stocks right now. And dividend payers look like some of the best bargains out there. That's because, historically, their payouts account for the lion's share of investors' returns. That's why we're taking a closer look at seven dividend stocks raising their payouts in February. 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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