I love to kick off the new trading week by taking a quick peek at companies that have just hiked their dividends. It's not just about the money. A company that is easing up on its pocketbook probably has improving fundamentals to back up that generosity.

Readers of the Income Investor newsletter can certainly appreciate that kind of thinking. Let's take a closer look at four of the companies that inched their payouts higher over the past week.

Let's start with Franklin Resources (NYSE:BEN). The mutual fund giant's new quarterly dividend will be $0.21 a share, a 5% improvement over its earlier rate. Franklin's funds may not go up every year, but its yield sure has. The firm has increased its distributions every year since 1981.

If you think that streak is impressive, Nucor (NYSE:NUE) has now boosted its rate every year since 1973. The steelmaker is giving its regular quarterly payout a 9% boost to $0.35 a share.

This doesn't mean that investors will be getting more money this year. Nucor is also suspending its "supplemental bonus dividend" as a result of the industry's hazy state and the company's own recent earnings warning.

Village Super Market (NASDAQ:VLGEA) is another hiker. The grocer is bumping its dividend 12% higher and declaring a two-for-one stock split. The move translates into shareowners receiving $0.185 a share every three months.

Finally, we have Progress Energy (NYSE:PGN) powering up its yield. The Southeastern utility is inching its quarterly dividend 1% higher to $0.62 a share. It may not seem like much, but Progress Energy is now working on a 21-year streak of declaring higher payouts.

Consider the companies going the other way last week:

  • Commercial property Saul Centers (NYSE:BFS) cut its dividend by 17%.
  • First Midwest Bancorp (NASDAQ:FMBI) voted a 27% dividend cut.
  • Insurance Horace Mann Educators (NYSE:HMN) is slashing its dividend in half.

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

Want to see what is being recommended these days? Go ahead and give the newsletter service a shot with a 30-day trial subscription. Who knows? Maybe the next thing that will get hiked will be your interest.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.