Oil companies have struggled since the oil price rout started in 2014. Cost cutting has been the norm for most companies, and for many, cost cuts included dividends. Some companies have refused to put dividends on the chopping block, and in the face of plunging valuations, have maintained or even increased dividends.

It may seem counter-intuitive but a strategy is behind the decision to maintain dividends despite falling oil prices. The oil price collapse has hammered many companies' stock values, and when stock values plunge, companies need to do what they can to attract investors. Dividends are a method to attract new investors and keep the current ones happy. Even as stock values fall, a monthly, quarterly or annual bonus appeals to many investors. However, not all companies have the luxury of pursuing this strategy.

Evaluating Dividends

Dividends are a per share payment distributed to shareholders monthly, quarterly or annually. The per share payment is easy for investors to understand when it comes to getting their dividend checks, but it is hard to analyze the total return for the amount of money invested in the company’s stock by looking at per share dividend payment alone. To properly evaluate dividends, look to the dividend yield.

A dividend yield is the amount of dividends a company pays relative to its stock price. It is calculated by dividing dividends paid per share by stock price. For an investor, this gives an idea of how much dividend payment he gets in relation to the amount of money tied up paying for the company’s stock.

From the dividend yield formula, important relationships can be ascertained. Dividends paid and dividend yield have a direct relationship; when one value goes up, so does the other. Also, dividend yields and stock prices have an inverse relationship; when one goes up, the other goes down. This is why during tough times, if a company's dividend payments are maintained while stock values plummet, dividend yield soars.

Lower Stock Prices, Lower Dividend Yields

When it comes to the past few years on the oil market, crashing stock prices have resulted in soaring dividend yields. High dividend yields alone are not enough reason to buy a company's stock, because a large dividend payment means nothing if a company is likely to slash it to conserve cash. To find the best dividend payers, you need a broader approach. The companies featured on this list have managed to maintain or increase dividends in the face of falling oil prices, had high dividend yields in 2015 for the sector, have a history of increasing dividends, and have the business and financial structure to continue to fund dividend payments. It will take years for oil prices to return to their former glory, but some companies will continue to pump out dividends. The following are five top dividend-paying stocks for 2016.

Exxon Mobil Corp.

Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) is the world's largest publicly traded oil and gas company with a market capitalization well over $300 billion. Exxon increased dividend payments in 2015, with annual dividend payments per share in 2015 of $2.88, up from $2.77 per share in 2014. Dividend increases are the norm for Exxon. Exxon's dividend payments to shareholders have grown at an average annual rate of 6.4% over the last 33 years. The ability to increase dividend payments with plunging oil prices is a positive sign for future dividend payments. The company has a diverse business, with exposure to all different stages of the oil supply chain that has helped it fund dividends for years, and likely for years to come.

Chevron Corporation

Chevron Corporation (NYSE: CVX) is the second-largest global oil producer behind Exxon with a $170 billion market capitalization. Chevron also has a stellar dividend history, increasing its dividend for the past 27 years. This time period involved many oil boom and bust cycles, proving the company has the financial management and is committed to funding dividends no matter the economic climate. Like many of the larger oil companies, Chevron's diversity helps it survive the cyclical nature of oil prices. Chevron's dividend yield at the end of 2015 was around 4.6%.

Total SA

Based in France, integrated oil producer Total SA (NYSE: TOT) is very diversified, with business segments that include an upstream segment, a refining and chemicals segment, a marketing and services segment, and a corporate segment. The company’s diversity helped limit Total's stock losses during the oil price downturn in 2014 and 2015. From December 2014 to December 2015, the company’s shares only fell 3%, which is a fraction compared to most oil companies.

Total has not reduced its dividend in over a decade. While the company is not a classic oil company, all of its business lines are focused on the oil market, and this diversity helped its valuation during oil’s steep price descent. Even though the company did not have the steep share price plunge to help boost yields, it still maintained a dividend yield in late 2015 of 5.62%.

Royal Dutch Shell

Royal Dutch Shell plc (NYSE: RDS.A)(NYSE: RDS.B) has not decreased its per share dividend for A or B stock since 2007. The company finished 2015 with a high dividend yield of about 7.6%, the highest yield of the five companies mentioned on this list. A big reason Shell's yield was so high was the tough year its stock had, falling about 25% as of December 2015 compared to December 2014. Through the price fall, the company cut capital expenditures (CAPEX) but left dividends alone.

ConocoPhillips Co.

ConocoPhillips Co. (NYSE: COP) has maintained or increased dividend payments since 2002. Even during oil's price collapse and ConocoPhillip's falling stock value, the company increased dividend payments once in 2014 and again in 2015. ConocoPhillips has implemented cuts to stay afloat but told shareholders that maintaining dividends is a top priority. The dividend yield was around 5.5% at the end of 2015, and the company's promise to continue distributions to shareholders means it is a solid choice for dividend investors.