Raise your dividend, and the market smiles with you. That is, of course, assuming that you have the means to grow your yield without upsetting your balance sheet. Which is why income investors often get a bonus when they buy into perpetual dividend hikers. Because it's not all about getting fatter quarterly checks -- odds are that these companies have improving fundamentals as well.

Let's take a closer look at four of the companies that inched their payouts higher this past week.

Altria (NYSE:MO) is giving its shareholders a little bit more breathing room after raising its already beefy dividend to $0.80 per share. Now yielding 4.6%, the tobacco giant's hike shouldn't have been much of a surprise. Back in July, Altria had raised its profit forecast. Naturally, Altria is a controversial stock. Some investors won't touch it because of the litigation overhang stemming from its "cancer sticks," but that's precisely why the hefty quarterly dividends help return some of the company's money back to its owners. Rival British American Tobacco (NYSE:BTI) yields a competitive 3.9%.

In many ways, St. Joe (NYSE:JOE) has answered the prayers of its investors. The company was once a forgotten conglomerate, toiling away in sleepy industrial pursuits like railroads and paper. Then the company started to take advantage of its biggest asset of all -- 820,000 acres of land in Florida. With a good chunk of that hugging the peninsular state's coastline, it began to profit as a real estate developer. Inching its quarterly payout by two cents to $0.16 a share only props St. Joe's yield to a mere 0.9%, but it will be welcome pocket change as patient shareowners play this eclectic real estate play out.

Government communications specialist Harris (NYSE:HRS) also upped the ante for its investors. Raising its dividend by 33% to $0.08 per share, the company justified the move by pointing to "continued positive momentum" after wrapping up a successful fiscal 2005 year.

Another hiker was Berry Petroleum (NYSE:BRY). In search of Jed Clampetts, Berry gobbles up land sitting on crude oil reserves and then gets busy digging. If you've been to the pump lately, you know what's been happening to gasoline prices. It's only natural for the oil and gas stocks to be doing well as a result of the price increases. That's why Berry has no problem taking its quarterly distributions to $0.13 a share.

Subscribers to our Income Investor newsletter can appreciate the companies sending more and more money to their investors. Analyst Mathew Emmert has often singled out companies that are committed to growing their distributions with market-thumping results.

Want to see what Mathew's liking these days? Go ahead and give his newsletter service a shot with a 30-day trial subscription to Income Investor. Who knows? Maybe the next thing that will get hiked will be your interest.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz pays attention to yield signs. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy .