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Men's Wearhouse, Schlumberger, Others Raise Dividends

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES A wide group of companies said they will raise their dividends Thursday, joining a growing list of corporations that have ramped up shareholder-friendly payouts to woo investors. Retailer Men's Wearhouse Inc. (MW) lifted its quarterly dividend by 50%, affirming what it called an ongoing ability to deliver free cash flow. The 6-cent boost to 18 cents a share will cost the men's clothing seller $12.3 million more each year. Many companies have increased dividends in recent months to spend excess cash and reassure investors worried by macroeconomic concerns. "Our goal is to deliver attractive growth and continued margin expansion while remaining dedicated to a balanced total shareholder return agenda," Men's Wearhouse Chief Executive Doug Ewert said. Oilfield services company Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB), meanwhile, raised its quarterly dividend 10%. Its 2.5-cent increase to 27.5 cents a share will cost an extra $134.2 million a year. Power and natural-gas distributor CenterPoint Energy Inc. (CNP) raised its payout 2.5%, marking seven straight years of dividend increases. The half-cent increase to 20.25 cents a share will cost the company about $8.5 million more each year. President and Chief Executive David M. McClanahan said the increase demonstrates the company's confidence in its ability to deliver sustainable earnings and cash flow. Williams Cos. (WMB) said its first-quarter dividend will more than double over its year-ago payout, with dividends expected to come more frequently. The oil-and-gas pipeline company plans to pay a 25.875-cent per-share payout on March 26 and raised its full-year dividend forecast to $1.09 a share, up 41% from 2011. Williams's previous 2012 dividend forecast was $1.03 a share. The company said quarterly increases will prove more consistent with growing cash distributions it is expected to get from its ownership interest in Williams Partners LP (WPZ). Williams itself expects its dividend to increase 10% to 15% on an annual basis. Men's Wearhouse shares were up 5 cents at $34.76 in light trading after the close Thursday. Schlumberger was off 26 cents at $72.60, while CenterPoint rose 8 cents to $18.51. Williams was off a penny at $28.73 after hours. -By Drew FitzGerald, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2909;

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