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Interested in finding stocks that pay reliable dividends? For ideas on how to start your search, we ran a screen you may find helpful.

We began with the stocks of the S&P 500, searching for those paying dividend yields above 2% and sustainable payout ratios below 50%. We then screened for those with strong profitability, beating their industry peers on gross, operating, and pretax margins. Since a company's profitability is what funds their dividend, a profitability analysis is always a good idea when evaluating a dividend stock.

We then screened for positive sales trends, indicated by the companies' growth in revenue exceeding their growth in inventory year-over-year. We also screened for inventory becoming a smaller portion of current assets, indicating a strong liquidity position as well.

Interactive Chart: Press Play to compare changes in analyst ratings over the last two years for the stocks mentioned below. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research.‬

We also created a price-weighted index of the stocks mentioned below, and monitored the performance of the list relative to the S&P 500 index over the last month. To access a complete analysis of this list's recent performance, click here.

Do you think these stocks pay reliable dividends? Use this list as a starting point for your own analysis.

List sorted by dividend yield.

1. Wisconsin Energy Corp. (NYSE:WEC): Engages in the generation, distribution, and sale of electric energy and steam. Dividend yield at 3.53%. Payout ratio at 43.57%. TTM gross margin at 26.59% vs. industry average at 26.43%. TTM operating margin at 19.35% vs. industry average at 17.13%. TTM pretax margin at 17.92% vs. industry average at 12.58%. Revenue grew by 8.18% during the most recent quarter ($1,052.8M vs. $973.2M y/y). Inventory grew by -12.83% during the same time period ($368.1M vs. $422.3M y/y). Inventory, as a percentage of current assets, decreased from 35.53% to 32.51% during the most recent quarter (comparing 3 months ending 2011-09-30 to 3 months ending 2010-09-30).

2. General Mills, Inc. (NYSE:GIS): Manufactures and markets branded consumer foods worldwide. Dividend yield at 3.06%. Payout ratio at 48.80%. TTM gross margin at 40.26% vs. industry average at 32.59%. TTM operating margin at 16.1% vs. industry average at 11.88%. TTM pretax margin at 14.55% vs. industry average at 9.35%. Revenue grew by 13.7% during the most recent quarter ($4,623.8M vs. $4,066.6M y/y). Inventory grew by -4.53% during the same time period ($1,628.7M vs. $1,706M y/y). Inventory, as a percentage of current assets, decreased from 42.47% to 40.5% during the most recent quarter (comparing 13 weeks ending 2011-11-27 to 13 weeks ending 2010-11-28).

3. St. Jude Medical Inc. (NYSE:STJ): Develops, manufactures, and distributes cardiovascular and implantable neurostimulation medical devices worldwide. Dividend yield at 2.03%. Payout ratio at 31.45%. TTM gross margin at 78.07% vs. industry average at 65.48%. TTM operating margin at 25.97% vs. industry average at 14.51%. TTM pretax margin at 19.16% vs. industry average at 11.33%. Revenue grew by 4.18% during the most recent quarter ($1,406.87M vs. $1,350.4M y/y). Inventory grew by -6.45% during the same time period ($624.48M vs. $667.54M y/y). Inventory, as a percentage of current assets, decreased from 22.92% to 18.19% during the most recent quarter (comparing 13 weeks ending 2011-12-31 to 13 weeks ending 2011-01-01).

*Profitability data sourced from Fidelity, accounting data sourced from Google Finance, all other data sourced from Finviz.

Source: 3 Highly Profitable S&P 500 Dividend Stocks With Encouraging Inventory Trends