The FTSE 100 (INDEX: ^FTSE) seems to be hovering a shade short of the 5,700 level this week, following on from a strong week last week. That's still a long way off its 52-week high of 6,055 points, achieved on July 7, 2011, but it's generally heading in the right direction.

Of course, an index only reflects the highs and lows of its individual members. We take a look at three shares hitting 52-week highs today, as they help push the FTSE indices upwards.

Good old safe, boring, Unilever (LSE: ULVR.L) gained 19 pence to hit a 52-week high of 2,202 pence today, before falling back a little. It's not a massive rise on the day, but it represents the slow and steady nature of companies like this that make up the backbone of many a long-term portfolio.

Most of all, companies like Unilever, which makes so many everyday consumer essentials that it's hard not to be a customer, provide safe long-term dividends and hold their value well through economic downturns. Unilever is offering a prospective dividend yield of 3.6%, and that's one of the steadiest on the market.

What, Debenhams (LSE: DEB.L), on the blighted High Street, reaching a 52-week high?

Yes, a strong push over the past month has helped it hit 87 pence today, though the morning's rise was only a quarter of a penny.

The shares are up 70% on their 52-week low point of 51.2 pence back in September 2011, which is a nice return in anybody's book. Forecasts suggest a 3.6% dividend yield for the year ending August 2012, rising to 4% for 2013.

William Hill
Bookmaker William Hill (LSE: WMH.L) is our third to reach new heights today, reaching 290.2 pence, for a 2.8 pence gain. The increasing popularity of online gambling has helped the shares gain 58% from their 52-week low point of 183.3 pence in December.

After such a strong rise, are the shares still worth buying? Well, there's a 3.7% dividend forecast for this year, with 4% penciled in for next, and those payouts should be covered two-and-a-half -fold by earnings, so they're likely to be safe. I can think of worse companies to buy.

Finally, if you want to find shares that have a good chance of reaching new highs over the longer term, the free report "Top Sectors of 2012," put together by The Motley Fool's top analysts, should give you some ideas of where to look.

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Alan Oscroft owns no shares mentioned in this article. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Unilever. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.