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's 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.

We'll start with Nucor (NYSE:NUE). The steel giant nearly tripled its yield, bumping its $0.11-per-share quarterly dividend to $0.30. Equally impressively, Nucor has bumped up its disbursements every year since 1973. They say that the steel industry is cyclical, but long-term Nucor shareholders probably don't see it that way.

Then we have a grassier Knoll (NYSE:KNL) theory. The office-furniture specialist grew its quarterly payout by 9%, to $0.12 a share -- an encouraging move. I love to keep a close eye on corporate furnishing specialists like Knoll, Steelcase (NYSE:SCS), and Herman Miller (NASDAQ:MLHR) as market bellwethers. Companies that are loading up on new desks and chairs are probably pretty upbeat about the country's near-term economy.

Ecolab (NYSE:ECL) is another hiker. The sanitation products and services behemoth cleaned up nicely with a 13% uptick in its payout rate. Investors will now receive $0.13 a share every three months. Ecolab shareholders are used to this by now, since the company has boosted its disbursements for 16 consecutive years.

Finally, we have Balchem (NASDAQ:BCPC) coming through. The provider of chemical solutions in the health-care and farming industries is now paying a dividend of $0.11 a share. The annual distribution is now 22% greater than last year's $0.09 declaration.

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's being recommended these days? Go ahead and give the newsletter service a shot with a 30-day trial subscription. Who knows? The next thing to get hiked might be your interest.

Steelcase is an Income Investor recommendation.

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