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Big pharma has been an oasis for dividend investors, and $133 billion pharmaceutical firm Merck ( MRK) is no exception. Already in 2012, shares of Merck are up 17% -- and that's on top of the firm's quarterly dividend payout. The firm currently pays out a 42-cent dividend, generating a 3.8% dividend yield at current price levels.

Merck is a diversified pharmaceutical firm that develops and markets drug therapies and vaccines worldwide. The firm acquired Schering-Plough in 2009, dramatically expanding its late-stage pipeline and growing its consumer products exposure. But like most of its major peers, Merck has the black clouds of patent losses lingering over its future. That's a big part of why MRK has such a lofty yield right now.

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The Schering acquisition also left Merck with heftier U.S. exposure than before: nearly half of the firm's sales come from the domestic market. And that's a very good thing right now considering the resilience of the U.S. dollar (that effectively penalizes overseas earnings) and the impact that "Obamacare" will have on pharmaceutical volumes in the next few years.

With a deep net cash position on MRK's balance sheet and significant cash generation capabilities, this stock looks primed to hike its payouts in the next quarter.

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