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For those of you caught up in the antics on Capitol Hill, you may not have noticed something this week that I found quite extraordinary. As of Friday morning, I was able to identify 18 companies that resumed paying or increased their dividends in this holiday-shortened week. Here they are:

Company Symbol Increase
Carnival CCL Reinstate
Standard Motor SMP Reinstate
Finish Line FINL 33.3%
Tiffany TIF 18.0%
Family Dollar FDO 14.8%
Intel INTC 12.5%
El Paso Pipeline Partners EPB 12.5%
Pall Corp PLL 10.3%
Omega Healthcare OHI 6.7%
Enterprise Bancorp EBTC 5.3%
Washington Post WPO 4.7%
McGraw-Hill MHP 4.4%
TC PipeLines TCLP 3.5%
Polaris Industries PII 3.0%
Spectra Energy Partners SEP 2.5%
Wesco Financial WSC 2.5%
Consolidated Edison ED 0.8%

The list is broad and covers all shapes and sizes of companies, from mega-cap Tech company Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) to companies many of us have never heard of. In any event, after a year of record slashing, with many companies cutting or eliminating their dividends, it is nice to see more optimism. I saw chatter of the resumption of share repurchase programs as well.

While it would be nice to say that this is the kind of sign that suggests a higher market, I wouldn't go that far. While on the one hand, capital-rich companies (though not all of these hikers fit that bill), are in a position to reward shareholders, there is a whole plethora of companies that need capital. In the table below are equity deals that were priced just this week:

Company Symbol Size (mm)
Charles Schwab SCHW $500
El Paso Pipeline Partners EPB $236
Inergy NRGY $181
AMAG Pharna AMAG $174
Hersha Hospitality Trust HT $155
Orient-Express OEH $138
Aegean Marine ANW $128
Nordic American Tanker NAT $122
InterMune ITMN $99
Centene CNC $96
Fifth Street Finance FSC $77
KIT Digital OTC:KITD $31
China Marine Food Group OTCPK:CMFO $30
Achillion Pharma ACHN $20
Curis CRIS $16

It's so cliche (and self-serving) for stock pickers like me to say that this will be a year for the stock pickers, but it really is shaping up that way out of the gate. I am sticking to my strategy that I have shared since 2007 of focusing on companies with strong balance sheets and/or defensive businesses.

Disclosure: Long FDO in a foundation I manage and in both of my model portfolios