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Stock dividends keep rising

April 03, 2012|By Walter Hamilton
  • U.S. companies are boosting the dividends paid to shareholders.
U.S. companies are boosting the dividends paid to shareholders. (Stan Honda / Getty Images )

U.S. companies are boosting dividend payments at a steady clip, a boon for investors who are drawn to the regular cash payments

Corporate America paid out $24.2 billion in dividends in the first quarter, a nearly 28% rise over the $19 billion shelled out in the the first quarter of 2011, according to Standard & Poor’s Corp. This year, 677 companies have raised their payouts, a jump of nearly one-third from the 510 that did so a year ago. Only 31 companies have slashed their payouts this year.

“Dividends had another great quarter,” said Howard Silverblatt, an S&P senior index analyst.

Small investors have poured into dividend-paying mutual funds lately, seeking the comfort of cash in a stock market that they still don’t fully trust. Recently, they’ve been getting the benefit of rising dividends and appreciating stock prices. The S&P 500 index is up more than 28% since early October.

Dividends remain low by historic standards – meaning that theoretically there’s plenty of room for payments to keep rising.

Companies are paying only about 30% of their earnings in dividends, far less than the historic level of 52%, according to S&P.

It’s doubtful that the payout rate will near its former peak, but S&P expects dividends to keep climbing the rest of this year.

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