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A dividend boost of a large-cap stock rarely goes unnoticed by investors. The stocks that raised their dividend payouts become more promising to dividend investors, since their dividend yields also increase. Moreover, a recent dividend growth may indicate the robustness of the company's financials and suggest further increases in dividend yields down the road. Hence, many stocks with recent dividend boosts not only have decent potential upsides, but also are appealing to defensive investors who seek some downside protection.

Below, we provided a list of 11 large-cap S&P500 companies with high dividend yields and a recent dividend boost. These companies have either increased dividend payouts since September 2011 or announced an increase in payouts in the fourth quarter. (The market data are sourced from Fidelity.) All stocks in our list have market capitalizations above $10 billion and annualized dividend yields of at least 3%. Since the beginning of this year, the average return of these 11 large-cap stocks was 14.92%, vs. 3.75% for the SPY. Only two stocks in this group – Republic Services Inc (NYSE:RSG) and Paychex Inc (NASDAQ:PAYX) – had a negative return in 2011, whereas nine stocks provided double-digit returns in the same period.

Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE:PM): Philip Morris International Inc. is a large multinational company selling cigarettes worldwide. PM raised its annualized dividends per share from $2.56 to $3.08 last September, boosting its dividend yield to 4.27%. PM recently traded at $72.12 and returned 27.15% since the beginning of this year. The stock has a market cap of $125.52B and P/E ratio of 15.14. Tom Russo holds more than $500 million of PM.

Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ): Verizon Communications is a large telecommunications company operating worldwide. VZ raised its annualized dividends per share from $1.95 to $2.00 last October, boosting its dividend yield to 5.31%. VZ recently traded at $37.63 and returned 10.87% since the beginning of this year. The stock has a market cap of $106.53B and P/E Ratio of 15.05. Phil Gross' Adage Capital holds nearly $150 million of VZ.

McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE:MCD): McDonald’s Corp. is a large fast-food chain operating worldwide. MCD announced to raise its annualized dividends per share from $2.44 to $2.80 in November, boosting its dividend yield to 3.00%. MCD recently traded at $93.29 and returned 24.27% since the beginning of this year. The stock has a market cap of $96.48B and P/E Ratio of 18.30. Jim Simons is the most prominent MCD investor (see billionaire Simons’ large stock positions here).

Altria Group Inc. (NYSE:MO): Altria Group Inc., formerly known as Philip Morris Companies Inc., is the parent company of five tobacco corporations. MO raised its annualized dividends per share from $1.52 to $1.64 last September, boosting its dividend yield to 5.95%. MO recently traded at $27.56 and returned 17.08% since the beginning of this year. The stock has a market cap of $56.68B and P/E Ratio of 16.50. Tom Russo holds the largest MO position among the 300-plus funds we are tracking.

Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE:LMT): Lockheed Martin Corp. is an American corporation operating in aerospace, defense, security and advanced technology industries worldwide. LMT announced to raise its annualized dividends per share from $3.00 to $4.00 in November, boosting its dividend yield to 5.30%. LMT recently traded at $75.43 and returned 11.11% since the beginning of this year. The stock has a market cap of $24.41B and P/E Ratio of 9.43. Both Jean-Marie Eveillard's First Eagle and John Shapiro's Chieftain Capital hold more than $200 million of LMT.

Reynolds American Inc. (NYSE:RAI): Reynolds American Inc. is a large U.S. tobacco company operating worldwide. RAI announced to raise its annualized dividends per share from $2.12 to $2.24 next December, boosting its dividend yield to 5.72%. RAI recently traded at $39.13 and returned 25.30% since the beginning of this year. The stock has a market cap of $22.44B and P/E Ratio of 16.88. Jim Simons, David Winters and Cliff Asness are prominent RAI investors.

American Electric Power Co. (NYSE:AEP): American Electric Power Co is an electric utility company that generates and distributes electric power to retail clients in the United States. AEP announced to raise its annualized dividends per share from $1.84 to $1.88 in November, boosting its dividend yield to 4.77%. AEP recently traded at $39.42 and returned 13.83% since the beginning of this year. The stock has a market cap of $19.01B and P/E Ratio of 10.48. John A.Levin had more than $60 million in AEP at the end of June 2011.

Spectra Energy Corp. (NYSE:SE): Spectra Energy Corp. is a U.S. energy pipelines company that processes, transmits and distributes natural gas in the United States. SE announced to raise its annualized dividends per share from $1.04 to $1.12 in November, boosting its dividend yield to 3.84%. SE recently traded at $29.17 and returned 20.24% since the beginning of this year. The stock has a market cap of $18.97B and P/E Ratio of 16.48. Clint Carlson’s Carlson Capital holds the largest SE position among the 300-plus funds we are tracking (see Clint Carlson’s top stock picks here).

Republic Services Inc. (RSG): Republic Services Inc. is a large waste management services company operating in the United States and Puerto Rico. RSG raised its annualized dividends per share from 80 cents to 88 cents last September, boosting its dividend yield to 3.04%. RSG recently traded at $28.98 and lost -0.89% since the beginning of this year. The stock has a market cap of $10.91B and P/E Ratio of 20.27. John Osterweis is among RSG investors.

Paychex Inc. (PAYX): Paychex Inc. is a US company providing payroll, human resources and business outsourcing services. PAYX raised its annualized dividends per share from $1.24 to $1.28 in October, boosting its dividend yield to 4.36%. PAYX recently traded at $29.36 and lost -1.11% since the beginning of this year. The stock has a market cap of $10.64B and P/E Ratio of 19.97. Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management holds $90 million of PAYX.

Conagra Foods Inc. (NYSE:CAG): Conagra Foods Inc. is a US company that supplies packaged foods to supermarkets and restaurants in the United States. CAG raised its annualized dividends per share from 92 cents to 96 cents in October, boosting its dividend yield to 3.80%. CAG recently traded at $25.27 and returned 16.24% since the beginning of this year. The stock has a market cap of $10.47B and P/E Ratio of 14.20. Diamond Hill Capital has the largest position in CAG, holding nearly $180 million of the stock.

Disclosure: I am long PM.

Source: 11 High-Yielding S&P 500 Dividend Boosters