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Investors who strive to receive income from their investments know the value of dividends all too well. Statistics have repeatedly shown that dividends have made up a large percentage of stocks' total return over past decades. Even more recently, dividend stocks have surged in popularity.
Since the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent market meltdown, when many growth investors were caught by surprise with massive principal losses in a short amount of time, investors have fully embraced dividend payments. The volatility-reducing, cash-in-hand value of those quarterly dividends goes a long way to providing investors with a dose of downside protection.
And, while nearly all investors are likely well aware of the market's biggest dividend-paying stocks, there happen to be highly profitable, dividend-paying small- and mid-cap stocks that should be given their due consideration.
Small in size, but with big dividends
Just because a company is small in size doesn't mean it can't offer investors a long historical track record of strong profitability and hefty dividend payments. Many small stocks, such as medical-supply distributor Owens & Minor (NYSE: OMI ) , are as intent on paying strong dividends as any large-cap stock. Owens & Minor bumped up its payout by 9% this year, which marked the 16th consecutive year of a dividend increase.
Equally impressive in its commitment to providing returns to shareholders is ATM manufacturer Diebold (NYSE: DBD ) , which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. Quite simply, Diebold boasts a dividend track record that is tough to beat. Earlier this year, the company raised its dividend for the 60th year in a row, and yields 3.8% at recent prices. This represents the longest current streak of any publicly traded company in North America.
If a 3% to 4% yield doesn't quite whet your appetite, an interesting choice could be property and casualty insurer Mercury General (NYSE: MCY ) , which operates primarily in writing automobile policies in the United States. Mercury General last increased its dividend to shareholders in October, and has now raised its dividend for 26 years in a row. The stock currently yields an impressive 5.2% percent at current prices.
Two vice stocks with virtuous dividends
Among stocks with less-than-tasteful business models, two small-cap dividend payers stand out. Universal (NYSE: UVV ) is a tobacco processor, which packages, stores, and ships tobacco leaves to manufacturers. Universal has been around since 1888 and has rewarded its investors along the way. The company has increased its dividend every year since 1971, a span of 42 years.
The company takes great pride in its dividend track record. After its last increase, Chief Executive George C. Freeman III noted that consistent dividend delivery is a key aspect of its long history of rewarding shareholders. At recent prices, Universal yields 3.9%.
Doing even better for investors, in terms of current yield, is Vector Group (NYSE: VGR ) , a cigarette company that holds brands including Pyramid, Grand Prix, and Liggett Select. Vector holds a $1.5 billion market capitalization, but what's really impressive is its nearly 10% dividend yield. The tobacco sector is known for stocks that provide hefty dividend payouts, but Vector Group's dividend is impressive nonetheless.
The Foolish conclusion
No matter which sector of the market you favor, there's likely a small- or mid-cap dividend stock for you. If you've grown tired of the same old dividend-paying large-cap stocks, there are smaller competitors that offer strong dividends. Not only that, but because of their smaller starting sizes, they may have more in store in terms of capital gains potential -- making for the possibility of a double-dose of market-beating gains.
Of course, dividends are never guaranteed, so investors will have to do their due diligence to make sure these stocks are appropriate. At the same time, Owens & Minor, Diebold, Mercury General, Universal, and Vector Group can be a great place to start your research.
Best of the best
Dividend stocks can make you rich. It's as simple as that. While they don't garner the notoriety of high-flying growth stocks, they're also less likely to crash and burn. And over the long term, the compounding effect of the quarterly payouts, as well as their growth, adds up faster than most investors imagine. With this in mind, our analysts sat down to identify the absolute best of the best when it comes to rock-solid dividend stocks, drawing up a list in this free report of nine that fit the bill. To discover the identities of these companies before the rest of the market catches on, you can download this valuable free report by simply clicking here now.