Do you have a very best stock? A stock that brings you closer to retirement year in and year out? One like Kraft (NYSE:KFT), 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 Yahoo! and Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) are underserving their owners.

In a way, dividends encourage responsibility -- something that strikes a personal nerve with me. As co-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, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) has an enormous portfolio of well-branded products that a lot of people use. Its brand names include nutritional names Lactaid and Splenda, pain relievers Bengay, Motrin, and Tylenol, as well as health and beauty products Aveeno, Neutrogena, and Rogaine. At 2.5%, its yield isn't enormous, but its ability to generate free cash flow is quite impressive.

Speaking of companies with strong brands, I'm taking a hard look at Mattel (NYSE:MAT), which manufactures a portfolio of iconic toys, including Barbie, Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price, and Matchbox. The stock has been beaten down 30% from its April highs due to a string of product recalls this summer and fall -- but I think brighter days lie ahead as soon as consumer confidence rebounds. The 3.7% dividend yield makes the wait much easier to bear.

The semiconductor industry is an unusual spot to search for dividend payers, but I think Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYSE:TSM) could be a very profitable exception. This Taiwanese company is the best name in the semiconductor business, and thanks to its high margins, solid balance sheet, and stable free cash flow, I think the 4.7% dividend yield is secure. I'm not as sanguine about the prospects of United Microelectronics (NYSE:UMC), but this Taiwanese semiconductor foundry's 3.1% dividend yield is also starting to look tempting.

The Foolish bottom line
These stocks aren't companies that are 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 more than four 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 in this article. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. Kraft and Johnson & Johnson are Income Investor recommendations. Yahoo! and Starbucks are Stock Advisor selections. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.