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This month, the Los Angeles Times wrote that 444 American companies increased their dividends in the second quarter of this year, while only 21 scaled back their payouts. But it's hard to keep track of 444 companies, so I've highlighted three stocks that will help you diversify your portfolio and take advantage of this dividend trend.
Coming off a great third quarter when earnings rose an unexpectedly high 30%, Walgreen (NYSE: WAG ) announced it would increase its quarterly dividend from $0.175 to $0.225 a share, a 29% increase. This marks the 36th consecutive year Walgreen has increased its dividend.
There is some speculation, however, that Walgreen will run into some trouble over a coming contract renewal with pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts (Nasdaq: ESRX ) . The current relationship generates about $5 billion in sales annually, and while most analysts expect the situation to resolve itself, there is no guarantee that Walgreen will come out of the negotiation unscathed.
Double up the dividends
Mining company Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF ) is a dividend champ. It announced last week that it was increasing its dividend 100% on the strength of recent price gains and iron-ore demand from China. The quarterly dividend will double to $0.28 a share. The increase will cost the company about $19 million a quarter, but its CFO is confident that its projected growth positions will yield excellent future cash flows.
Dividends for breakfast
When I broke out the dividend leaders in the food industry last month, I mentioned that General Mills (NYSE: GIS ) had a history of raising its dividend in the fourth quarter (ending in May). Sure enough, the company did not disappoint. As if to say "the next round of Cheerios is on us," General Mills upped its dividend almost 9%. This increase is about in line with the rest of the industry for 2011, lower than J.M. Smucker (NYSE: SJM ) at 10% and higher than Kellogg (NYSE: K ) at 6%.
The increase will cost the company an additional $64 million annually, but investors needn't worry. General Mills is old hat at the dividend game, consistently paying out to investors for the last 112 years.
A diverse portfolio is crucial to investing. If investors can incorporate strong dividend stocks into that diversity, especially with companies with excellent dividend pedigrees like Walgreen and General Mills, then they are that much better off.
Interested in dividend stocks? Check out our free report, "13 High-Yielding Stocks to Buy Today."