I love the smell of dividend hikes in the morning. That's because the news is usually attached to a company brimming with optimism. After all, you don't surrender more of your cash to your shareholders unless you think there's even more money to be made in the future. If it's a trend that continues, the improving fundamentals may very well send the shares higher.

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

M.D.C. Holdings (NYSE:MDC) builds a better dividend. The real estate developer has been thriving with the buoyant housing market and has been letting its shareholders share in the spoils. The homebuilder's new payout -- $0.25 a share -- is 39% higher than it was three months ago. It's also 117% higher than its distribution a year ago.

Waste Management (NYSE:WMI) is also cleaning up its act, announcing that it will hike its quarterly dividend by 10% to $0.22 per share in 2006. The trash-hauling and environmental services giant did turn in lower third-quarter profits, but the results came in better than analysts had been expecting.

Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI) was another hiker. The oil and gas services provider grew its dividend by 13% to $0.13. The new-and-improved payout was announced just hours before the company's third-quarter report, a period that saw profits soar by 61%. Then again, none of this should come as much of a surprise when you hear of record profits for the quarter for the leading fuel companies. Baker Hughes may not be as big as Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) or Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) in terms of aiding gas companies with their exploration and production services, but it's the country's third-largest player in an industry clearly being "fueled" by higher gas prices.

We also had CSX (NYSE:CSX) hop aboard the plumper dividend gravy train. The railroad conductor grew its quarterly earnings by 31% and followed suit by increasing its dividend by 30%. Margins improved dramatically for the company as the top line mustered a mere 9% advance.

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

Want to see what Mathew likes these days? Go ahead and 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.

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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 an ironclad disclosure policy. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.