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What happened?
Biotech major Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) has declared that its next dividend payout will be nearly 27% higher than its predecessor, landing at an even $1.00 per share. That sounds like a big leap, but relatively speaking it's actually quite restrained. In fact, in percentage terms it's the most modest raise since the company began paying a dividend in mid-2011. Annual increases are typical -- Amgen has lifted the distribution once every year at around this time. Since inception, the dividend has risen sharply from $0.28 per share to the present level. The new payout is to be dispensed next March 8 to stockholders of record as of the preceding Feb. 16.

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Does it matter?
Since they roughly track the development of Amgen's stock price, the raises might have at least something to do with maintaining the dividend yield. At the current share price, said yield on the new payout is 2.4%, just above the current 2.1% average of the stocks on the S&P 500 index.

The latest and greatest dividend increase should help support the company's share price. More cynically, we can also say that it'll help mask investor worries about the loss of patent protection on some of its blockbuster drugs. This is always a risk and worry for investors in drugmakers, but Amgen is taking a page from rivals and developing its own lineup of biosimilars to drugs from peers.

Meanwhile, increasing that dividend yield keeps Amgen at the top of many "best dividend stocks in healthcare" lists. It also maintains its dividend-paying lead over Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD), a similarly sized peer (in terms of market capitalization) in the biotech orbit. At present, Gilead Sciences' $0.43-per-share quarterly payout yields only 1.7%. In addition, Amgen has a longer history of sharing the wealth with stockholders; Gilead Sciences only initiated its distribution this past April.

Eric Volkman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Gilead Sciences. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.