Abbott has a 22-year history of dividend growth. The last increase was 9% last May to a $1.92 annual rate. The company is guiding for 2012 earnings that will exceed $5 a share and provide better than two-fold coverage of the dividend. Both Abbott and Abbvie will pay a dividend, with payout being split between the two.

2. ConocoPhillips (COP)

Yield: 3.6%

ConocoPhillips is spinning off its refining & marketing business as Phillips 66, an already well-known brand. Shares of Phillips 66 (PSX: NYSE) will be distributed on April 30, with current shareholders receiving one share of Phillips 66 for every two shares of ConocoPhillips currently owned.

ConocoPhillips has long been a favorite of dividend investors for its 13% yearly dividend growth and yields that have consistently exceeded 3% in the last five years.

Going forward, the company intends to pay out 20% to 25% of cash flow as dividends every year. That means dividends may rise to $4 billion this year from $3.6 billion last year. ConocoPhillips also plans to make $10 billion in share repurchases, which will reduce the share count and further enhance dividend growth per share.

Phillips 66 has a similar commitment to dividend growth. This company will pay a 80-cent annual dividend and plans to grow payments by 5% a year. The initial dividend is roughly 20% of Phillip's annual cash flow and very affordable. Phillips shares began trading in mid-April in a $35-to-$36 price range and have a 2.3% yield.

3. Sara Lee (SLE)

Yield: 2.1% plus special $3 dividend

Sara Lee is splitting into two companies and will pay a special $3 dividend to shareholders in June. Shares currently trade near $21, so the special dividend will deliver a 14% yield. Sara Lee also plans to continue paying a 46-cent annualized dividend that currently yields 2.1%.

One company will retain the Sara Lee name and consist of the North American packaged food and meats business. The second company, named D.E. Master Blenders, will operate the international coffee, tea and beverages business.

Sara Lee is a classic example of the individual pieces being worth more than the package and a spinoff is being done to unlock hidden value. Analysts peg the break-up value of the packaged food business at $7 a share and the coffee business at $16 a share. Include the $3 dividend and that's a $26 value for the spinoff. Shares currently trade for less than $22.

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