Suppose that, 30 years ago, you invested $1,000 in Altria, formerly Philip Morris, maker of the even-then-famous Marlboro brand of cigarettes.

When you invested that grand, you would have had just 29 shares at the price of $34.50. Hardly enough to get on with, right? Well, today, through splits and spinoffs, you would have:

  • 700 shares of Altria.
  • Nearly 500 shares of Kraft.
  • 700 shares of Philip Morris International.

Total value? Just shy of $65,900. Better yet, you'd have earned a total of $32,600 in dividends as a result of that original $1,000 investment.

What if you had reinvested those dividends? Instead of nearly 1,900 shares across three companies worth a total of $65,900, you'd have more than 7,400 shares of three companies worth a whopping $260,000. That includes more than $91,500 in dividend payments -- nearly three times the income received by those who chose not to reinvest dividends.

But here's the really sweet part. Today, without having to sell a single share, you'd be receiving more than $13,000 in income -- every year.

Now that's what I call a wealth machine.

Yeah, right!
All right, I know what you're thinking. "That is such a blatant example of data mining! Nobody did that!" Well, as it happens, my grandmother did. Not with Altria, but with ExxonMobil.

She bought shares of Exxon back in the early 1960s and reinvested her dividends. By the time my grandfather was ready to retire some 30 years later, they were able to buy two lots of land and build their retirement home on one of them -- paying cash on the barrelhead just from that one investment.

In other words, Altria is by no means the only example in which reinvesting dividends could have made you rich over the years.

Want further proof?

Professor Jeremy Siegel of the Wharton School of Business has shown that the 100 highest-yielding stocks of the S&P 500 outperformed the overall index by 3 percentage points per year. Now a 3-point advantage may not sound like much, but over 10 years, that meant more than $900 extra received for every $1,000 invested.

Wealth machines
Now before you can say, "Where am I going to find companies that even come close to what happened way back then?" let's look at what makes a "wealth machine."

I call Altria and ExxonMobil wealth machines not because they were great companies (although they were) or because they paid a dividend -- after all, not every dividend payer can be called a wealth machine -- but because they consistently raised their dividends. And they were able to do that because they performed consistently well.

What may surprise you is that research by Robert Arnott of Research Affiliates and Clifford Asness of AQR Capital Management has shown that companies with higher dividend payout ratios -- the amount of the dividend compared to net income -- tend to have higher real earnings growth in the following 10-year period. In other words, they're better-run companies. And we already know what earnings growth means for a company as far as price goes.

So that's what to look for: companies that consistently raise dividends over time. Now let's look at some numbers.

Would you believe me if I told you that nearly 20% of the companies currently in the S&P 500 have increased their dividend by 10% or more per year over the past 10 years? It's true. In fact, 89 companies have done so.

That list includes such familiar names as McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), at a screaming 46.1% per year over the past decade with the biggest jump coming in 2000, and clothing retailer TJX Cos. (NYSE: TJX), growing dividends at a slower, but still healthy, 21.8% per year. You expect companies like those two to pay dividends. Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM) and EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG) have also been dividend giants, growing their dividend by an average of 12.8% and 25.9%, respectively, per year over the past 10 years.

Here are three other wealth machines -- and what you would have today if you had invested in them 10 years ago, reinvesting all dividends.


Average Annual Dividend Increase

Result of Investing $1,000

CAGR, Including Dividends

Nucor (NYSE: NUE)




Apache (NYSE: APA)




Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM)




Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. CAGR = compounded annual growth rate.

These average returns come close to rivaling Warren Buffett's performance -- and you don't even have to be as smart as he is. All you have to be is smart enough to invest in well-run companies with a history of paying dividends and increasing those payments over time.

Dividend-paying wealth machines have a place in everyone's portfolio, even ours. At The Motley Fool's real-money Million Dollar Portfolio, Ron Gross and his team have access to all the picks from all our services, choosing only the best of the best to investigate further and invest in. As part of building a diversified portfolio, they've been sure to include potential wealth machines from our dividend-focused service, Income Investor. If you'd like to learn which ones they chose and how they fit into building a successful portfolio, click here to enter your email address and we'd be happy to tell you more.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Fool analyst Jim Mueller owns shares of Philip Morris and Exxon, but no other company mentioned. Nucor is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Philip Morris is a Global Gains selection. The Fool owns shares of Altria, ExxonMobil, and Philip Morris. The Motley Fool is about investors writing for investors and making everybody richer.