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Tickers in this Article: T, GIS, BMY, BEN
It's always a sign of confidence when a company raises its payout - and more so when it's done in the midst of tough economic times. And while the economic environment may have improved, remember that it was only one short year ago that business headlines were focused on the dividend chopping that was taking place in the financials and auto makers (among others) at that time.

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The full weight of the financial crisis was being felt in the U.S. and abroad, and the thought of raising dividends for shareholders was a fantasy for most companies - though some still managed to do so.

Here are four big cap companies with cash flow that's sufficient enough to add to shareholders' annual payouts. (To learn the dividend basics, refer to Dividend Facts You Must Know.)

Ma Bell Raises Dividend
AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) is one of the world's largest telecom companies, operating in the wireless, wireline and advertising businesses (the latter through its Yellow Pages holdings).

Over the last 12 months, AT&T was down roughly 5%, underperforming the broader telecom sector significantly, though the shares have risen by close to 20% since bottoming in March. AT&T has a market capitalization of $165 billion and currently offers a 6% annual dividend. Price to earnings is 14.12 and is expected to grow as the company just experienced a surge in new wireless and iPhone customers.

AT&T raised its dividend by 2.4% to $1.68 per share on an annual basis.

Bristol Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE:BMY) is a New York based pharmaceutical giant with a market cap of $50 billion and a current dividend yield of approximately 5%. The company just raised its payout by four cents to $1.28 per year.

Although some analysts expect a future diminishing sales pattern due to increased competition in the drug sector, BMY stock saw a moderate increase in 2009 and carries a current P/E of 13.28.

Cereal Maker Rolling in Dough
Packaged food giant, General Mills (NYSE:GIS) just upped its quarterly payout by eight cents to $1.96 per share, bringing the yield up to 2.7%. General Mills trades with a P/E of 14.67 and was up 20% in 2009.

GIS reported an oversized increase of 50% in its latest quarterly profit.

A History of Increases
Franklin Resources, Inc.
(NYSE:BEN) is an investment management company with a market cap exceeding $24 billion. Shares in the company increased by nearly 75% last year and currently offer investors a nominal - though growing - dividend of 22 cents payable on January 8, 2010. The company just raised its dividend by 5% - the 29th straight annual increase without interruption. (Balance risk and return to produce adequate income despite inflation. Read Build A Dividend Portfolio That Grows With You.)

The Wrap
A raise in dividends is a vote of confidence in current and future earnings. Value investors should take note: management teams that see fit to reward shareholders are usually rewarded in turn by higher stock prices.

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