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Imagine you had invested $1,000 in the S&P 500-tracking SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust when it launched in January 1993. As of Aug. 21, 2023, if you had spent your dividends along the way, your investment would be worth around $9,935. If, on the other hand, you had reinvested those dividends, your account value would be worth around $17,440. Those seemingly small dividend payments, reinvested and compounded over time, clearly add up.

Yet even that outstanding boost in long-term performance is based on the dividends from owning the overall index as a whole. That includes companies that don’t even pay a dividend. Just think about the potential if you’re able to find the top dividend payers within the S&P 500. Consider just how much you could end up with if you instead focused on the companies in that index that offer both solid yields and the potential to increase those payments over time.

While it’s impossible to know for certain what the future will bring when it comes to investing, these four members of the S&P 500 just may be among those top dividend payers.

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1. The real estate company that sells hamburgers

McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) may be best known for the hundreds of billions of burgers it has served throughout its existence, but the company is also a real estate powerhouse. It tends to own the land and buildings where its franchisees operate restaurants. As both landlord and franchisor, McDonald’s corporate gets a good chunk of the revenue from selling those burgers, which helps keep its overall revenue strong.

That’s a key reason why the company has been able to increase its dividend for 46 consecutive years. With a current yield of around 2.2% and a payout ratio of just below 55% of its earnings, there’s decent reason to believe it can extend that streak to 47 years later this fall. Analysts expect McDonald’s to be able to increase its earnings at around a 9% annualized clip over the next five years. And there’s a good chance the dividend can keep pace.

2. The hidden partner that keeps much of America trucking

Unless you deal with transportation, you may never have heard of C.H. Robinson Worldwide (NASDAQ: CHRW), but the company markets itself as “the world’s most powerful and most connected logistics platform.” Operating as a freight broker and transportation management systems provider, C.H. Robinson plays a huge role in helping companies get their stuff from point A to point B, all day, every day.

While transporting stuff around tends to be a very commoditized and cyclical business, C.H. Robinson doesn’t actually own trucks. Instead, it helps match truckers with shippers, giving both sides access to each other, without having to make the expensive investment in all that equipment.

That helps C.H. Robinson avoid the worst of most economic cycles. That’s why it has been able to increase its dividend for 25 consecutive years, including its most recent boost of nearly 11%. Thanks to that boost, it offers investors a yield around 2.6%. With a payout ratio just below 55% of earnings and higher earnings expected for 2024, there’s good reason to believe it can keep that streak of rising dividends alive.

3. A company you probably use without knowing it

Have you ever shopped at a grocery or convenience store and gotten something from a refrigerated case? Chances are that the case was made by Dover (NYSE: DOV). Similarly, if you’ve filled up a car with gas, there’s a good possibility that the pump came from Dover as well. Likewise, if you’ve ever thrown something away, there’s a good chance that Dover was involved in creating the garbage or recycling truck that picked it up.

Although you likely use its products on a remarkably regular basis, you may not recognize that Dover is the company behind them. That ubiquity is a key reason why earlier this month, Dover was able to increase its dividend for the 68th consecutive year. That’s a remarkable track record, and even though Dover’s increase was only $0.005 per share per quarter, the company’s 28% payout ratio means there’s good reason to believe it will hit 69 years in 2024.

4. If people aren’t building houses, they’re fixing them up

Home improvement titan Lowe’s (NYSE: LOW) claims that it has increased its dividend for more than 25 consecutive years, but depending on how you count, its streak may be around twice that length. That’s because it hasn’t always boosted its payment every four quarters. As a result, its rising annual payment wasn’t always driven by direct increases, but rather the “carryover” effect of previous mid-year boosts.

Regardless of how it got there, the reality is that Lowe’s has a very strong track record of rewarding its shareholders with cold, hard cash. Thanks to its payout ratio of around 40%, it should be able to keep up that trend.

It certainly helps that Lowe’s is in the home improvement business. As we learned during the Great Recession, when people aren’t buying new homes, they’re often willing (or required) to spend to maintain and improve the houses they’re in. That offers a decent source of revenue even in tough times.

Decades-long dividend growth streaks don’t come easy

Lowe’s, Dover, McDonald’s and C.H. Robinson all have histories of rising dividends that stretch back decades. That they’ve been able to do so speaks wonders for their consistent operating strength and business models that allow them to be resilient, even in less-than-ideal economic times.

If you’re looking for top dividend stocks for your portfolio, these four are certainly worth investigating. Even if you choose to invest your money elsewhere, by digging into what they’re able to do to keep their dividend growth trends alive, you can uncover what helps such a company stand out from the crowd.

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Chuck Saletta has positions in Dover. The Motley Fool recommends C.H. Robinson Worldwide and Lowe’s Companies. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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