Best of 2011: Dividend Stocks

Amid all the carnage that plagued the markets in 2011, stocks that paid generous dividends became more important than ever. Dividend stocks were like a warm blanket for investors trying to brave what was at times a cold, harsh climate.

With that in mind, here are three dividend stocks that stood out in 2011 – making big gains and growing their dividends despite such market uncertainty:

1. Atlas Energy (NYSE: ATLS)

Market Cap: $1.37 billion

Dividend: $0.96

Dividend Yield: 3.7%

2011 Gains: 62%

Atlas started the year with a bang, merging with energy giant Chevron (NYSE: CVX) back in February. As a result, shares of the Pittsburgh-based stock all but doubled in a matter of two months, going from $13.80 a share on February 15 to $25.95 on April 15. Atlas’ dividends followed suit, going from $0.28 a share in February to $0.96 a share by year’s end. The company’s dividend yield increased from 0.5% in June to 3.7% at the end of the year.

2. B&G Foods (NYSE: BGS)

Market Cap: $1.11 billion

Dividend: $0.92

Dividend Yield: 3.9%

2011 Gains: 75.3%

The makers of Cream of Wheat cereals, Ortega salsa and Polander jellies increased its annual dividends from $0.68. Much of the company’s 75% gains occurred in the fourth quarter, when the stock gained 45.6% in three months. The company’s November purchase of several Unilever brands provided a boost, as did the company’s nearly $600 million in sales. B&G’s dividend is currently higher than it’s been in at least a decade.

3. Terra Nitrogen Company (NYSE: TNH)

Market Cap: $3.41 billion

Dividend: $15.84

Dividend Yield: 8.8%

2011 Gains: 55.3%

Yes, the dividends are that high for this fertilizer producer. In the first nine months of the year Terra Nitrogen’s sales surged 42% year-over-year, with net profits exploding by 178%. Clearly the company poured much of its earnings into dividends. The dividend yield was only 5.45% to start 201, with an annual payment of $5.44. The return has since nearly tripled, making Terra Nitrogen one of the highest yielding dividend stocks on the market.

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