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The number of S&P 500 Index companies paying dividends is the highest in over a decade. According to data compiled by Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Indices, the total number of dividend payers has climbed to 401. The analyst estimates total payouts in 2012 to be a record of $279 billion. The previous record was in 2008 when 372 S&P 500 companies distributed $248 billion in cash to shareholders. The Nasdaq OMX group, operators of the second largest stock exchange in the U.S., recently announced its first quarterly dividend of $.13 (2 percent yield).

A diverse group of companies has increased dividend payments in recent months, often to bolster investors' confidence in their overall business prospects. Here are companies increasing dividends with a bullish or better outlook indicating a buy rating.

Industrial distributor W.W. Grainger Inc (GWW) increased its quarterly dividend by 21 percent, after posting strong results and raising its full-year outlook. The company will now pay a dividend of $0.80 per share, compared with its earlier payout of $0.66 per share. GWW has a current dividend yield of 1.54%. GWW has an equity summary score of 9.4 out of 10 for a VERY Bullish outlook.

Vanguard Natural Resources, LLC (VNR) announced yesterday that its board of directors has declared a cash distribution attributable to the first quarter of 2012 of $0.5925 per unit ($2.37 on an annual basis) payable on May 15, 2012 to unitholders of record on May 8, 2012. This represents an approximate 3.9% distribution increase from the first quarter of 2011 and a .9% distribution increase from the fourth quarter of 2011. VNR has a current dividend yield of 8.14%. VNR has an equity summary score of 9.4 out of 10 for a VERY Bullish outlook.

Chevron Corp.'s (CVX) board of directors announced it is raising its quarterly dividend 11.1% to 90 cents a share, payable June 11, 2012 to shareholders of record on May 18. It is the 25th consecutive year the nation's second-biggest oil company has raised its annual dividend. CVX has a current dividend yield of 3.33%. CVX has an equity summary score of 9.2 out of 10 for a VERY Bullish outlook.

Parker Hannifin Corporation (PH) , the global leader in motion and control technologies, announced that its Board of Directors increased the Company's regular quarterly cash dividend to $0.41 per share of common stock and declared a dividend payable June 1, 2012 to shareholders of record as of May 10, 2012. This represents a 5% increase over the previous quarterly dividend of $0.39 per common share and is the Company's 248th consecutive quarterly dividend, resulting in a total distribution to shareholders of approximately $62 million. PH has a current dividend yield of 1.87%. PH has an equity summary score of 8.4 out of 10 for a Bullish outlook.

Broker dealer Ameriprise Financial Inc (AMP) posted a quarterly profit above estimates, and raised its quarterly cash dividend 25%. The company increased its quarterly cash dividend to $0.35 per common share, its third increase since February of last year. AMP has a current dividend yield of 2.58%. AMP has an equity summary score of 8.0 out of 10 for a Bullish outlook.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. (CBRL) raised its quarterly dividend 60% and said it has seen positive same-sales and traffic growth in the quarter so far. The restaurant chain will raise its quarterly payout to $0.40 from $0.25 a share, which will cost the company about $13.8 million more a year. The company had $119.4 million in cash and cash equivalents as of Jan. 27. CBRL has a current dividend yield of 2.72%. CBRL has an equity summary score of 7.8 out of 10 for a Bullish outlook.

Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ) lifted its quarterly dividend 7%, marking the 50th straight year the health-care products giant has decided to raise its payout to shareholders. The four-cent increase, to 61 cents a share, will cost the company about $439 million more each year. JNJ has a current dividend yield of 3.74%. JNJ has an equity summary score of 7.1 out of 10 for a Bullish outlook.

Source: 7 Buy-Rated Companies Raising Dividends