My dueling partner Billy Fisher is a little too quick to discard the substantial dividends that Washington Mutual (NYSE:WM) serves up. In his comparison year of 2001, the company paid about $0.90 per share in dividends. It appears that the company will pay $2.21 per share in 2007. That's a hike of about 145% over the past six years.

Even better, it looks as though Washington Mutual can maintain those payments for the foreseeable future. The company is weathering the worst storm in its primary business in at least a generation, yet it appears to be able to sustain a dividend that has more than doubled in the past few years. That speaks volumes for the company's true financial strength. And that strength is what should eventually translate to its capacity to reward investors through both direct payments and long-term appreciation.

Be greedy when others are fearful
The contrarian in me is absolutely thrilled by Billy's belief that Washington Mutual is in the wrong sector at the wrong time. Even he admits that it's a good company. His own argument seems to bolster the belief I espoused in my opening salvo: Washington Mutual looks to be a case of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.

In truth, none of us really knows exactly when the housing and mortgage meltdown will end. People have to live somewhere, and unless we all start paying cash for our homes, there will still be a need for mortgages. The current crisis in the sector is already weeding out the weakest players, and those failures will simply improve the profitability of the survivors once the market does recover. I'd rather own the companies that I think will survive than wait too long and miss profiting from their inevitable rebound.

Check out the other arguments in this duel, and then vote for a winner.

At the time of publication, Fool contributor Chuck Saletta owned shares of Income Investor recommendation Washington Mutual. The Fool has a disclosure policy.