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These 2 Stocks Just Raised Their Dividends

By Eric Volkman – Jul 9, 2016 at 8:07AM

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Two well-known food purveyors are our raisers for this week's installment.

The big dividend raise news last week happened in the financial sector. Most banks saw their capital allocation plans approved in the latest round of the Fed's annual stress tests. In many cases, such approval will shake out in richer dividends.

Image source: Getty Images

But there are many banks hiking their payouts, more than I can cover in the usual format of this series, so I'll tackle them in a separate digest next week. Watch this space for that article.

In the meantime, a pair of other big names on the stock market added to their distributions as June turned into July. Read on to find out which twosome is about to make their shareholders incrementally wealthier.

Darden Restaurants

The operator of restaurant chains Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, and The Capital Grille, among others, Darden Restaurants (DRI -1.27%) is upping the calories in its quarterly dividend. The company has declared a payout of $0.56 per share, a 12% raise over its predecessor.

That coincided with the release of its Q4 and fiscal 2016 results, with the former period seeing a nice 33% year-over-year rise in net profit (to nearly $140 million), on the back of same-restaurant sales that improved by 2.6% on a comparable calendar basis.

Much of this is due to efficiency measures taken at Olive Garden, arguably the company's most high-profile chain. Among other cost-saving moves, Darden simplified the restaurant's menu. All told, the company shaved nearly $123 million on expenses in this most recent quarter compared to Q4 2015.

Meanwhile, lower capital expenditures helped to boost free cash flow, which at the end of fiscal 2016 stood at almost $600 million. That was more than enough to pay the company's dividends and fund a share repurchase program; going forward, I think it'll continue to have plenty in the tank for both.

DRI Free Cash Flow (Annual) Chart

DRI Free Cash Flow (Annual) data by YCharts

Darden's upcoming dividend will be paid on Aug. 1 to stockholders of record as of July 11. At the most recent closing stock price, it would yield a respectable 3.6%. That's well higher than the 2.1% average of dividend-paying stocks on the S&P 500.

General Mills(GIS -0.11%)

Even more familiar to the American eater than Olive Garden is General Mills (GIS -0.11%), a classic purveyor of popular breakfast cereals like Cheerios (and, more recently, non-cereal food items like Yoplait yogurt). A longtime dividend payer and frequent raiser, the company has declared a 4% increase in its quarterly distribution to $0.48 per share.

GIS Dividend Chart

GIS Dividend data by YCharts

As a mature company with a product lineup that isn't cutting edge, General Mills is not the most dynamic of enterprises. Its prospects are improving, though -- in 2015, for the first time in years, overall cereal sales rose in the U.S.

That, combined with aggressive cost cutting, has juiced the bottom line. In its most recently reported quarter, the company's net income more than doubled on a year-over-year basis (to almost $380 million), even as net sales slid by almost 9%, to $3.9 billion. Both line items beat analyst expectations.

General Mills' lack of dynamism is evidenced by its operating and free cash flow figures, which have crawled up slowly of late. For fiscal 2016, the latter was just enough to finance the company's dividends and a modest share repurchase initiative. That wasn't the case in previous years, though, so I'm not 100% confident those payouts will keep rising.

General Mills' freshly raised dividend is to be handed out on Aug. 1 to shareholders of record as of July 11. It would yield 2.7% on the current stock price.

Eric Volkman has no position in any stocks mentioned, and neither does The Motley Fool. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

General Mills Stock Quote
General Mills
$82.84 (-0.11%) $0.09
Darden Restaurants Stock Quote
Darden Restaurants
$144.96 (-1.27%) $-1.86

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