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S&P Dow Jones Indices: 1Q dividend hikes climb

NEW YORK (AP) -- The S&P Dow Jones Indices said Wednesday that there was a 39.4 percent rise in first-quarter dividend increases compared with a year ago.

The group said that there were 944 dividend hikes in the quarter, versus 677 in the prior-year period. During the quarter 139 companies cut dividends, compared with 35 companies a year earlier.

Dividend net increases for U.S. domestic shares totaled $14.5 billion for the period. This excludes special and one-time dividend payments, so the results were not impacted by the late 2012 rush by companies to move up dividend payments or declare special dividends to avoid potential higher taxes.

Many companies pay dividends as a way to return capital to shareholders, which may make them more likely to buy more stock. The payments are also viewed by some as a sign of a company's strength and that management has positive expectations for future earnings.