I love to kick off a new trading week with a quick peek at companies that have just raised their dividends. A company that's easing up on its pocketbook probably has improving fundamentals to back up that generosity.

Readers of the Income Investor newsletter service can appreciate that kind of thinking. Let's take a close look at four of the companies that inched their payouts higher last week.

Let's start with Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT). Falling prices may be the retailer's mantra, but rising dividends may be a better fit. The quarterly distribution is climbing by 8% to $0.2375 a share. The world's leading discount department-store chain has jacked up its yield on an annual basis since 1974.

Fatter shareholder checks? Yeah, we got that. Staples (Nasdaq: SPLS) didn't call in sick when the time came for a payout pay raise. The office-supply chain tapped the Easy Button in announcing an annual dividend of $0.33 a share, a 14% improvement.   

The boost doesn't necessarily indicate strength in the sector, though. Staples and rival superstore Office Depot (NYSE: ODP) have both delivered disappointing quarterly reports. Comps are falling as the tenuous economy forces small businesses to scale back on their expenditures.

optionsXpress (Nasdaq: OXPS) is another dividend booster. The Web-based options trading broker is giving its payout a 28% increase. Investors will now receive $0.08 a share every three months. The market's volatility is creating opportunities for the online stock and options brokerage discounters such as optionsXpress, TD AMERITRADE (Nasdaq: AMTD), and Charles Schwab (Nasdaq: SCHW).

Finally we have Escalade (Nasdaq: ESCA) scoring big. The sporting-goods specialist brings new meaning to the quarterback position by bumping its dividend 14% higher, to $0.25 a share. 

Subscribers to the Income Investor newsletter can appreciate the companies sending more and more money to their investors. The service singles out companies that are committed to growing their distributions with market-thumping results.

Want to see what's recommended these days? Give the newsletter service a shot with a free, 30-day trial subscription. Who knows? Maybe the next thing that will get hiked will be your interest.

Wal-Mart is an Inside Value recommendation. Staples, optionsXpress, and Schwab are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Learn more with a trial offer to "yield" more out of either service.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz pays attention to yield signs. He does not own shares in any companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, which seeks tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.