The New York Yankees of the '50s and the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Cowboys of the '90s have 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 59% since August 2007, and it currently is rewarding investors with a 0.6% yield (which rises and falls with changes in this foreign company's reported income). Or consider PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), which has climbed 21% since November 2008, atop a current 3% 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 our 145,000-member CAPS community:



CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Merck (NYSE:MRK)



Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT)






ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM)



Emerson Electric (NYSE:EMR)



Source: Capital IQ (a division of Standard & Poor's), Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS as of Jan. 29.

Any one of these quality companies would add some dividend pizzazz to your portfolio, but let's take a closer look at how Intel stacks up.

Does my dividend have a glass jaw?
The last thing we want in a dividend-paying company is the risk that the company will fall off a cliff and have to pull back its dividend. This usually ends up being a double whammy because not only do you lose your dividend payout, but many of the dividend-loving investors who own the stock will run for the hills, causing the stock price to fall.

With that in mind, there are three places that I immediately tune into when kicking the tires of a dividend payer -- dividend history, financial statements, and business stability.

Dividend investors would be hard-pressed to complain too much about Intel. As far as financial stability goes, the chip champ is a veritable Fort Knox, with nearly $14 billion in total cash and equivalents versus just a hair over $2 billion in debt. As for the debt that the company does carry, the interest that it pays is so small that the interest earned on its cash balances is more than enough to cover it.

Turning to the most important of the financial statements -- the cash flow statement -- there's no less reason for dividend bullishness. During the first nine months of 2009, the company had $4.3 billion in cash left over after paying for all of its capital spending. That left more than enough greenbacks to pay out the $2.3 billion in dividends.

As for the business, we do have to face the fact that the microchip business is a cyclical one, and that means that Intel investors will have to take lean times along with the booms. Of course, at the moment, I happen to think the stars are aligning so that Intel may be seeing more of the latter than the former in the near term.

What the bulls say
I'm far from the only one bullish on Intel. On CAPS nearly 6,700 members have given the stock a thumbs-up against just 555 who think it will underperform the rest of the market.

CAPS member BoomerBull recently joined the bullish chorus and had this to say:

Corporate tech spending is increasing after several years of stagnation. [Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM] have PCs or servers that use Intel processors, so Intel covers most hardware spending regardless of hardware brand. [Microsoft] Windows 7 is off to a good start and will stimulate upgrades everywhere. [AMD] will survive but not overtake the wide-moat Intel.

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.

Warren Buffett has given a lot of great advice over the years, but Morgan Housel believes this is Buffett's best advice ever.

Intel and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Emerson Electric, Petrobras, and PepsiCo are Income Investor selections. Motley Fool Options has recommended a buy calls position on Intel and a diagonal call strategy on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of Intel, but does not own shares of any of the other companies mentioned. You can check out the stocks he's keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio or connect with him on Twitter @KoppTheFool. The Fool's disclosure policy pays its dividends in reliability.