The New York Yankees of the '50s and the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Cowboys of the '90s had one crucial element in common: consistent excellence in their organizations and performance. That's a rare accomplishment, but if you think it could never occur in your portfolio, think again. Carefully chosen dividend-paying stocks could be your key to superstar returns.

Build the next investing dynasty
These long-haul outperformers can help you build your fortune, as studies from investing gurus such as Jeremy Siegel have shown time and time again. Finding them is our Motley Fool Income Investor service's mission.

Petrobras (NYSE:PBR), for example, has returned over 100% since August 2007, and it currently is rewarding investors with a 1.3% yield. Or consider StatoilHydro (NYSE:STO), which has returned over 80% since early October 2006, atop a current 4.2% yield. While these stocks happen to be Income Investor recommendations, you don't need to be a subscriber to get these great gains.

Identify new talent
With the help of Motley Fool CAPS, we'll search for the best dividend-paying stocks around. Here are several dividend picks that have also earned high ratings from the 100,000-plus members of our CAPS community:



CAPS Rating

Nokia (NYSE:NOK)



Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG)



The McGraw-Hill Companies (NYSE:MHP)



Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY)



Analog Devices (NYSE:ADI)



Source: Capital IQ, Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS as of May 15.

Any one of these quality companies would add some dividend excellence to your portfolio, but I thought I'd kick off further research with a closer look at Nokia.

Dependable dividends
As we know, not all dividend payers and dividend payouts are created equal. For that reason it's important to make sure that the dividend you're expecting isn't about to take an extended vacation with the dodo bird. To figure this out, I like to look at the prospects for the company's business, the company's history of paying dividends, and the sustainability of the current dividend.

When considering business stability, Nokia is no Procter & Gamble and probably never will be. The ground is constantly shifting in the world of mobile phones -- which makes up about 50% of Nokia's revenue and a greater percentage of its profit -- and that means that Nokia has to constantly stay on its toes.

However, this $100 billion behemoth has proven itself to be a pretty steady performer over the past few years, and the market for mobile devices is continuing to grow. It's also continuing to broaden its business with moves like the acquisition of digital mapper Navteq. And if you're looking for a wide geographic base, look no further -- about 40% of sales come from Europe, 22% from Asia-Pacific excluding China, 12% from China, and 14% from the Middle East and Africa. Currently, only 13% of Nokia's revenue comes from North America and Latin America.

Though Nokia's dividend history doesn't go back decades, it does go back at least a decade. And with the exception of a hiccup during the dot-com bust, the company has raised its dividend every year since 1996. The dividend doesn't appear to be anywhere near at risk either -- Nokia produces well more cash than it currently pays out in dividends. In fact, going back to 2003 the company has been supplementing its dividend with a healthy amount of share buybacks.

The bull-to-bear ratio on CAPS isn't quite enough to give Nokia a five-star rating, but it is a well-liked stock nonetheless. CAPS All-Star jfheisel gave Nokia a thumbs-up back in April of 2007, noting the company's geographic exposure and ability to sell across price points:

Strong brand recognition in emerging markets (Russia, China, etc.), where mobile handsets are being upgraded by consumers every 6-12 months. Nokia manages to keep low-tech handsets on the shelves, but also manages to move massive numbers of units in the expensive segment ($500 , even $1,000 ) to people who have to have the newest, most stylish device. As a user of Nokia products, I'm occasionally disappointed by them, but the positives to the user experience far outweigh the negatives.

You can check out who else has been bullish on Nokia, as well as chime in with your own thoughts by heading over to CAPS. You may also want to check out a few of the other top-rated dividend payers above while you're there.

Dividend stocks could help you transform your portfolio from the flash-in-the-pan Florida Marlins into the dependable New York Yankees. And if you hate the Yankees, it's probably because they're so darn good, so darn often.

More CAPS Foolishness: