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 the mission of our Motley Fool Income Investor service.

National Fuel Gas (NYSE:NFG), for example, has beaten the S&P 500 by 44% since August 2005, and it's currently rewarding investors with a 4% yield. Or consider Snap-on (NYSE:SNA), which has topped the S&P by 42% since October 2004, atop a current 3.4% yield. Although 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 120,000-plus members of our CAPS community:



CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Valero (NYSE:VLO)



NYSE Euronext (NYSE:NYX)



Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK)



Williams (NYSE:WMB)



Tesoro (NYSE:TSO)



Sources: Capital IQ (a division of Standard & Poor's), Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS as of Nov. 6.

Any one of these quality companies would add some dividend excellence to your portfolio, but let's look more closely at why CAPS members think Valero is worth a hard look.

lenri weighs in
It appeared for a while that energy companies would be the holdout from the slumping market. Thanks to Chinese demand and dwindling supplies, the argument ran, oil would remain at record prices and everyone in the oil industry would prosper. Alas, some of the enthusiasm over energy seems to have been pure speculation, while much of the rest of it was beaten out of the energy stocks by softening demand.

Refiners such as Valero were caught somewhere in the no-man's land of this situation. When oil prices were soaring, their refining margins were getting squeezed by higher crude costs. Now that crude's back has been broken, the group has taken it on the chin in the other direction, as gasoline prices have fallen faster than expected.

CAPS All-Star lenri, however, thinks the whipsawing of Valero's fortunes has left its stock at an attractive price:

Wanting an energy stock in my portfolio and yet wishing to stay large cap I have chosen [Valero]. ... Any kind of price escalation, even with new tariff impositions, will not hold this stock back. This stock could easily double in the next year and still be 45% off its high and you will receive about a 3% dividend while you wait.

Though Valero carries only a four-star rating on CAPS, lenri is among nearly 4,000 CAPS members who are bullish on the stock.

Meanwhile, on Valero's recently announced third quarter, the company showed rebounding margins, no doubt helped by falling crude prices and the amount of lower-grade crude that Valero can use in its refineries. At the same time, management expressed hope that rapidly falling gasoline prices would help spark demand. But whether or not recovery is imminent for the company, dividend-focused investors should feel safe in the meantime. Valero has been producing more than enough cash to continue paying out its dividend, while it continues to strengthen its balance sheet.

Get into the action
You can check out who else has been bullish on these stocks, 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.

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