Do you have a very best stock? A stock that brings you closer to retirement year in and year out? One like Kraft, formerly American Dairy Products, which -- as tracked back by Dr. Jeremy Siegel -- turned $1,000 into more than $2 million over 53 years with dividend reinvestment? In terms of returns, Kraft has quite literally been the very best stock of the past half-century.

I pay special attention to this stuff: My job is to find companies with that same magic that's made Kraft such a dynamite stock.

A repeatable fortune
What's the secret of Kraft's phenomenal digits? Well-branded products that a lot of people use, for starters. While that may be the bulk of it, those products aren't its only source of juju. The rest comes from two magic words: dividend reinvestment.

Don't think these words are powerful? Take a ho-hum stock -- or at least one that appears that way -- paying 5% in dividends yearly and racking up a modest 5% in capital appreciation. Start with $1,000 and reinvest those dividends. After 30 years, you'll have amassed a whopping $18,700!

The other side of the coin is that you could get those returns -- or better -- from a strong growth stock, but the dividend stock above gives you the flexibility to switch from reinvestment to an income strategy. In that example, you'd get almost $900 a year. Besides, which one do you think is the safer bet?

A few ideas for you
Paying dividends to shareholders also forces companies to exercise fiscal discipline. That's great, because being flush with cash tempts managers -- let's face it, they tend to have big egos -- to bungle their loads. And even if they don't slip up, they tend to hoard that cash away from shareholders without putting it to any use. That's why Microsoft's long-anticipated one-time $3-per-share dividend payout meant so much to shareholders, and why cash hoarders such as Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) are underserving their owners. (I love the search engine, but it's time to share the wealth, guys.)

In a way, dividends encourage responsibility -- something that strikes a personal nerve with me. As the advisor of The Motley Fool's dividend stock newsletter, Income Investor, I'm always on the lookout for corporations paying solid dividends, like the stocks I'll share with you now.

Like Kraft, Diageo (NYSE:DEO) has an enormous portfolio of well-branded products that a lot of people use. Its brand names include Guinness, Smirnoff, Tanqueray, and many more. Its yield isn't enormous -- 3.2% -- but the company has been growing its dividend by 9.6% annually over the past five years.

Endurance Specialty (NYSE:ENH) is a Bermuda-based reinsurer. The company was volatile during the months following Hurricane Katrina, but Endurance had a strong and storm-free 2006. Today, though we're at the cusp of yet another hurricane season, Endurance is positioned well financially. And even better, it yields 2.7% and shows decent forward growth prospects.

Public Storage (NYSE:PSA) is a $13 billion real estate investment trust that specializes in storage rental space. While the company has been hit hard since late February, it still shows fairly strong top-line growth and maintains a portfolio of properties that shouldn't be affected in the long term by today's real estate turbulence.

Storage is a big business. Companies like Mobile Mini (NASDAQ:MINI) and U-Store-It (NYSE:YSI) pick up different ends of growing demand. But in the end, Public Storage pays a respectable 2.6% dividend and should grow well in the years to come.

The Foolish bottom line
These companies aren't perfect for everyone; they're ideas to jump-start your research. The best stock for you might not be the best for another reader. The bottom line is that in seeking great stocks for your portfolio, I invite you to give a close look to dividend stocks. They're appropriate for just about everybody. They're closet performers, and they tend to do their jobs more safely than others.

Looking for more stock ideas? Income Investor is beating the market by about six percentage points -- and I'm offering a free guest pass. Simply click here to learn more.

This article was originally published Nov. 14, 2006. It has been updated.

James Early does not own shares of any company mentioned. Kraft is an Income Investor recommendation. Microsoft and Endurance Specialty are Inside Value picks. Mobile Mini is a Stock Advisor recommendation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.