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The Dividend Champions spreadsheet and PDF have been updated through March 28, 2013, and are available here. Note that all references to Champions mean companies that have paid higher dividends for at least 25 straight years, while Contenders have streaks of 10-24 years and Challengers have streaks of five to nine years. "CCC" refers to the universe of Champions, Contenders, and Challengers.

Growth Continues

March -- at least this year -- might be described as "coming in like a lion, going out like a lamb." The month began with a couple of milestones and continued with a steady stream of dividend increases that tapered off toward the end of the month. The first milestone came when Myers Industries (NYSE:MYE) raised its payout for the fourth straight year, placing it on the "Near-Challengers" list (Appendix B on the Notes tab). That made it the first former Champion (and current "Frozen Angel" (Appendix C) to have worked its way back to within a year of rejoining the CCC listings. If not for a brief dividend "freeze" in 2009, Myers would have a 35-year streak of paying higher dividends each year. The second milestone came when Silgan Holdings (NASDAQ:SLGN) raised its dividend for the 10th straight year, making it the 200th Contender in the listings and continuing a dramatic shift that has taken place over the past several months, in which the number of Challengers has shrunk by virtue of the many "graduations" to Contender status. Silgan was joined days later by General Mills (NYSE:GIS), which boosted its payout by more than 15%, from 33 cents to 38 cents per quarter, giving it 10 years of higher dividends.

The shift in population from Challengers to Contenders has been fueled, to some extent, by the arrival of a new year, when many companies typically raise their dividends. But it was already under way in late 2012, since other corporations declare their increases before year-end. If you go back to the end of September, you'll see that there were 178 Contenders and 187 Challengers. By year-end, there were 183 Contenders and 170 Challengers, and now there are 201 Contenders and only 164 Challengers. I attribute the shift in the two groups to the wave of companies that began boosting their dividends after the 2001 recession and the ensuing bear market that ended in early 2003. (Companies reaching the 10-year mark in 2013 would have started their streaks in 2004.) The "Next Wave" can be seen in the rapid expansion of "Near-Challengers" that appear in Appendix B. That group has grown from 37 companies at the end of September to 50 at year-end and 87 as this is being written. If all those companies go on to increase their dividends again, the CCC population would exceed 550 companies a year from now.

I anticipate a pickup in dividend increases in April, when many companies like to declare them in conjunction with the Annual Shareholder meetings. As always, please feel free to leave any suggestions in the comment area below.

Quick Summary

The Summary tab includes a table comparing the composite numbers from the latest update to those from the previous month and the end of the previous year. Below that is a summary of the latest month's activity, in terms of companies added, deleted, or promoted. That is reflected below:

Quick Summary:

March 28, 2013

Champions

Contenders

Challengers

Total

No. of Companies

105

201

164

470

Ave. No. of Years

39.4

14.2

7.1

17.4

Average Price

59.16

58.42

49.49

55.47

Average % Yield

2.67

2.84

3.22

2.93

Ave. MR % Increase

8.36

8.61

10.51

9.16

Feb. 28, 2013

Champions

Contenders

Challengers

Total

No. of Companies

105

199

167

471

Ave. No. of Years

39.4

14.2

7.1

17.3

Average Price

57.25

56.91

47.29

53.58

Average % Yield

2.77

2.92

3.33

3.03

Ave. MR % Increase

8.31

8.42

10.42

9.04

Dec. 31, 2012

Champions

Contenders

Challengers

Total

No. of Companies

105

183

170

458

Ave. No. of Years

39.0

14.3

7.2

17.3

Average Price

53.48

50.89

45.25

49.39

Average % Yield

2.93

3.02

3.62

3.22

Ave. MR % Increase

7.75

8.58

10.43

9.06

MR = Most Recent

Additions:

(None)

Deletions:

Alliance Financial Corp. (NASDAQ:ALNC) from Challengers

Promotions:

General Mills from Challenger to Contender

Silgan Holdings Inc. from Challenger to Contender

(Table created by author; may include underlying data from FinViz.com.)

Every Picture Tells a Story

Usually I insert one of Chuck Carnevale's F.A.S.T. Graphs below, highlighting one of the companies listed above. But this month I'm not doing so because none of the three possibilities -- an unusually small number of "candidates" -- appear to be undervalued. (Myers comes closest, but looks fairly valued, whereas Silgan and General Mills are at or near new all-time highs.)

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Source: Dividend Champions For April 2013