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10 top U.S. dividend stocks to own until retirement

If the past is indeed prologue, now is the time to get conservative and consider these less-than-barn-burning stocks, which have outperformed lots of high-fliers.

This is an especially important consideration if you're looking at your retirement years, and you can't stomach another decade of volatile and negligible returns as we've seen over the past decade.

For the most part, they're boring companies. But so what? The hard chargers at U.S. mutual fund companies turned in a total return, including dividends, of a loss of 0.5 per cent in 2011, according to Morningstar. These stocks did better.

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In most cases, they posted a share-price return in the high single-digits, and that, coupled with big dividends, will serve as a sea-anchor to your portfolio, especially if you're over age 50 and looking at your retirement years with trepidation.

In the 20-20 hindsight we all crave, the odds are you could have done better with a portfolio made up of high-paying dividends stocks, and a modicum of these shares with a share-price gain. So you could say a "Hail Mary" for your portfolio, or better yet, bet on old reliables like these.

Yes, they can be boring or even lugubrious as corporations, but these companies churn out steady cash flow year after year and have held their value like no other stocks. That's because they're into something we can't live without, such as telecommunications and gasoline.

For example, AT&T, created out of the "Ma Bell" bust-up, returned over $10-billion (U.S.) to shareholders in the past decade – it's now at a current yield of 5.9 per cent – and on top of that had a 10-year average annual return of 1.7 per cent.

But there's a wrinkle in the numbers, as cigarette maker Altria Group, perhaps one of the leaders in the "sin" stocks category, is barely off the top-10 queue at a payer of $3.7-billion in dividends during the past decade. It now has one of the highest current yields, at 5.6 per cent, and couple that with its 10-year, 10.5 per cent share-price appreciation, you have a pretty heavenly investment.

Here are the 10 highest U.S. dividend payers of the past decade, per Standard & Poor's senior analyst Howard Silverblatt, and ranked in terms of total payouts. Keep in mind that the yield will change constantly with the underlying share price.

10. Philip Morris International

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Company profile: Philip Morris is the world's second-largest tobacco company, behind only China National Tobacco, and holds almost 16 per cent of the non-U.S. market. It claims 15 international brands, including Marlboro, one of the best-known names in the world. Goldman Sachs on Jan. 17 took Philip Morris off of its "Americas Buy List," but maintained its $80 (U.S.) price target. It trimmed its earnings outlook to $4.86 per share from $5.10.

Returns: Payout of $5.3-billion in the past decade and a current yield of 3.9 per cent on its shares. And they have appreciated 26 per cent in the past three years, over the period of when the company went public.

9. Verizon Communications

Company profile: Verizon serves as the local phone company for about 25 per cent of the U.S. population and owns a worldwide long-haul network.

Returns: It has paid dividends of $5.7-billion over the past decade, and its shares carry a current yield of 5.1 per cent. Over the past 10 years, the stock has risen 2.1 per cent, on average, each year.

8. Procter & Gamble

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Company profile: P&G is perhaps the world's best-known consumer products manufacturer, with a lineup of famous brands. They include Tide laundry detergent, Charmin toilet paper, Pantene shampoo, Cover Girl cosmetics and Iams pet food.

Returns: Paid out $3.1-billion over the past 10 years and now carries a 3.1 per cent dividend yield. Its shares have gained an average of 7.5 per cent over the decade.

7. Microsoft

Company profile: Microsoft is the developer of the Windows PC operating system, the Office suite of productivity software, and enterprise server products.

Returns: Paid just under $6-billion in dividends over the past 10 years and carries a current yield of 2.8 per cent. But its 10-year share price return is a paltry 1 per cent.

6. Johnson & Johnson

Company profile: Johnson & Johnson is one of the world's largest and most diverse health-care companies. It has three divisions: pharmaceutical, medical devices and diagnostics, and consumer goods.

Returns: Payout of $3.3-billion over the past decade and now carries a dividend of 3.4 per cent; it has a 10-year share-price appreciation of 3.3 per cent.

5. Chevron

Company profile: Chevron is the second-largest oil company based in the U.S., and is an integrated energy company with exploration, production, and refining operations worldwide.

Returns: $6.5-billion in dividends in the past decade, carries a current yield of 2.9 per cent and has had annual share price growth of 11.3 per cent.

4. Pfizer

Company profile: Pfizer is the world's biggest pharmaceutical firm, with annual sales near $70-billion.

Returns: Dividend payout of $6.7-billion over the past decade; current yield of 4 per cent. Its shares are down an average of 3 per cent annually over 10 years.

3. General Electric

Company profile: GE is one of the world's biggest companies, which is structured on four segments: technology infrastructure, energy infrastructure, home and business services, and capital services such as lending.

Returns: Once one of the most reliable dividend payers as a staple in widows and orphans retirement funds – with a market value of almost $200-billion and dividend payouts of $7.2-billion over the past decade – General Electric has lost a bit of ground, with a current yield of 3.6 per cent. Contributing to that view is that has a share-price loss of 3.6 per cent over the past decade.

2. Exxon Mobil

Company profile: Exxon Mobil is the world's largest refiner, with 36 refineries, and it is one of the world's largest manufacturers of commodity and specialty chemicals.

Returns: $9-billion over the past decade, with a current yield of 2.1 per cent. Stock performance over the decade: 9.8 per cent gain, making it one of the market's leaders.

1. AT&T

Company profile: "Ma Bell" is the second-largest U.S. wireless carrier, serving 89 million traditional, "hardline" customers and 12 million "connected devices" such as electronic readers.

Returns: $10.4-billion over the past decade, with a current yield of 5.9 per cent and its 10-year, share-price return is 1.7 per cent.

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