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Overall investors have mainly been focusing on dividend cuts in 2009. I believe that most stocks that pay out dividends are cyclical in nature. Thus, they do not have the specific competitive advantages, which provide for a long and sustainable annual dividend increases over time.

The starting list for any dividend growth investor, who is looking for companies, which have a proven track record of consistently raising their dividends for 25 years, is the S&P Dividend Aristocrats Index. There were 52 companies in the index at the end of 2008. So far this year the following dividend aristocrats have increased their dividends:

In January Bemis (NYSE:BMS) increased its dividend to 0.90 from 0.88, which marked the 26 consecutive increase for the manufacturer of flexible packaging products and pressure sensitive materials.

Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED) increased its dividends by 1%, which marked the 35th annual consecutive increase for this provider of electric, gas, and steam utility services. The stock currently yields 5.80%. (analysis)

Family Dollar Stores (NYSE:FDO) increased its dividends by 8%, which marked the 33rd annual consecutive increase for this operator of of self-service retail discount stores. The stock currently yields 1.90%. (analysis)

McGraw-Hill (MHP) increased its dividends by 2.30%, which marked the 36th annual consecutive increase for this provider of information services and products. The stock currently yields 4.10%. (analysis)

In February 3M (NYSE:MMM) increased its dividends by 2%, which marked the 51st consecutive increase for this diversified technology company. The stock currently yields 4.30%. (analysis)

Abott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT), which engages in the development, manufacture, and sale of health care products worldwide, increased the company's quarterly common dividend 11% to $0.40 per share. This marked the company’s 37th year of consecutive dividend increases. The stock currently yields 2.60%. (analysis)

Archer-Daniels-Midland (NYSE:ADM) increased its quarterly dividend from $0.13 to $0.14/share, which marked the 34th consecutive increase for this agricultural commodities and products company. The stock currently yields 2.00%. (analysis)

Chubb Corp (NYSE:CB), which provides property and casualty insurance to businesses and individuals, announced that its Board has approved a 6.10% increase in its quarterly dividend from $0.33 to $0.35 per common share. CB has consistently increased its dividends for forty-four consecutive years. The stock currently yields 3.30%. (analysis)

Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), which engages in the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of nonalcoholic beverage concentrates and syrups worldwide, raised its quarterly dividend by 8% from $0.38 to $0.41 per common share. The company behind one of the world’s best-known consumer brands has rewarded its shareholders with an uninterrupted streak of increased dividends for 47 years. The stock currently yields 3.50%. (analysis)

Integrys Energy (NYSE:TEG), which operates as a regulated electric and natural gas utility company increased its quarterly dividends payment to $0.68/share, which marked the fifty-first consecutive year of increased payouts. This utility company currently yields 7.00%.

Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB), which engages in the manufacture and marketing of health and hygiene products worldwide, announced that its Board has approved a 3.40% increase in its quarterly dividend from $0.58 to $0.60 per share. KMB has consistently increased its dividends for thirty-seven consecutive years. The stock currently yields 5.00%. (analysis)

Pitney Bowes (NYSE:PBI) increased its dividends by 2.90%, which marked the 27th consecutive increase for this provider of mail processing equipment and integrated mail solutions. The stock currently yields 6.00%.

Sherwin-Williams (NYSE:SHW), which engages in the development, manufacture, distribution, and sale of paints, coatings, and related products, boosted its dividends for the thirty first consecutive year. The stock currently yields 3.10%. (analysis)

Sigma- Aldrich (NASDAQ:SIAL) increased its dividends to $0.145 from $0.13, which marked the 33th consecutive increase for this specialty chemicals company. The stock currently yields 1.70%.

Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), which operates the largest chain of retail stores in various formats worldwide, announced that its Board has approved a 15% increase in its quarterly dividend to $0.2725 per share. Wal-Mart has consistently increased its dividends for thirty-five consecutive years. The stock currently yields 1.90%. (analysis)

On the other hand only five have cut their dividends so far in 2009:

General Electric (NYSE:GE)

State Street (NYSE:STT)

Gannett (NYSE:GCI)

US Bancorp (NYSE:USB)

Pfizer (NYSE:PFE)

The changes in the Dividend Aristocrat index should be expected and they are a natural process that occurs even in normal years. In 1989, the number of companies in the index was only 26. Only 7 of the original companies still remain in the index. The companies are: DOV, EMR, JNJ, KO, LOW, MMM and PG. The percentage of companies that remain in the index after 10 years is about 35%. There have been about 116 companies that have gone through the index for the 15-year period form 1989 to 2004. The average company stayed 6.5 years in the S&P Dividend Aristocrats index from the time of its addition. So as a dividend investor, you should expect year over year changes in the index.

I believe that the Dividend Aristocrats above are still showing a confidence in future cash flows by raising their dividends to shareholders even in the toughest crisis since the Great Depression. Only a company which has a business model that allows it to generate increasing streams of cash could support a long streak of dividend raises to stockholders. That’s why dividend investors should ignore the fear of dividend cuts from cyclical companies and instead focus on a diversified list of stocks from a variety of sectors with long track records of dividend increases until the current storm passes.

Disclosure: Author is long ED, FDO, MHP, KO, ADM, MMM, SHW, WMT, KMB,

Source: Dividend Aristocrats Keep Raising Their Dividends