Dividends rock. More dividends? Even better. No, it's not just for the obvious shareholder-enriching reason. A company that feels comfortable paying out more is doing so under the assumption that it's likely to earn more in the future. That can be a magnetic sign for sharp income investors.

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

We'll start with Praxair (NYSE:PX). The industrial gas giant is raising its dividend by 39%. Investors who were receiving $0.18 per share every three months will now be getting $0.25 every quarter (or a buck a share over the course of the year). The producer and distributor of atmospheric and process gases can certainly afford the kinder distributions. Earnings climbed 19% higher to hit $2.50 a share last year on a whopping $7.7 billion in sales.

Avon Products (NYSE:AVP) also came calling with sweeter-smelling dividends. Avon increased its quarterly dividend by a mere 6% -- from $0.165 to $0.175 per share -- but that doesn't mean that the company isn't putting more of its money to good use. In 2005 the company spent $728 million on share buybacks.

Trimming back the outstanding shares accomplishes a few things. For starters, profits get divided by fewer shares, and this props up earnings per share accordingly. With fewer shares out there, the company also has the flexibility to grow its dividend -- as Avon has done -- without necessarily having to spend more for the distributions.

Cintas (NASDAQ:CTAS) was another hiker. The country's leading corporate uniform provider is growing its annual dividend from $0.32 to $0.35 a share. The company has been a perpetual mover on that front. Since going public 23 years ago, the company's dividends have grown at a compounded annual rate of 21%.

Then we have ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM). Record profits and buoyant prices at the pump are giving the world's most valuable company (in terms of market cap) the flexibility to pay its shareholders $0.32 a share this quarter. That's three pennies ahead of last year's rate. Then again, it's not as if the company's generosity has been siphoned off when the financials haven't been this fluid. The fuel giant has grown its dividend for 23 consecutive years.

Subscribers to our Income Investor newsletter can appreciate the companies that are 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? 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.

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. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.