There's something special about a company increasing its dividend. It's not just that a hike puts more money in shareholders' pockets. It's also a sign that a company feels upbeat enough to go easy on those purse strings. If the trend continues, the improving fundamentals may very well send the shares higher.

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

Carnival (NYSE:CCL) let its payout get a little bigger. The leisurely cruising giant bumped its quarterly payout from $0.20 per share to a full quarter. Yes, that's mere slot machine change aboard the ship's lively casinos, but investors should welcome the extra nickel as a sign that Carnival is confident that bookings for future sailings will remain strong. Despite yet another pesky hurricane season, the company topped forecasts in its fiscal third-quarter report.

Charles Schwab (NYSE:SCH) may seem as though it's simply splitting pennies as its quarterly dividend goes from $0.022 to $0.025, but it's still notable. Despite a plethora of dirt cheap trading commissions, consolidation in the discount stock brokerage industry continues. Just follow the acquisitive ways of rivals E*Trade (NYSE:ET) and Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD), and you will see a sector that's heading toward fewer, yet stronger, players. That may not be the best news for a stock investor, but it may open up some intriguing possibilities for brokerage stock investors if companies like Schwab wind up with more pricing flexibility.

Microchip Technology (NASDAQ:MCHP) was another hiker. The maker of microcontroller and analog semiconductors upped its quarterly dividend from $0.125 per share to $0.16. Over the past year, Microchip has more than tripled its payout! The company has been ramping up its dividends on a sequential basis, and this marks the sixth consecutive quarter that Microchip has issued a higher payout. Even if the trend doesn't continue, shareholders now have a healthy 2.2% yield to reward their patience.

Speaking of consistent hikes, Alltel (NYSE:AT) grew its payout for the 45th consecutive year. Sure, going from $0.38 a share to $0.385 a share may not seem like much, but it allows the communications company the ability to keep an enviable streak going. That has helped the stock beat the market since being singled out last year for Income Investor readers.

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 likes these days? Give his newsletter service a shot with a 30-day trial subscription. Who knows? Maybe the next thing that will get hiked will be your interest.

Charles Schwab is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation.

The Motley Fool has kicked off its ninth annual Foolanthropy campaign! Nominate your favorite charities on our Foolanthropy discussion board through Nov. 1. For guidelines on what makes a charity Foolish, visit .

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