Posts Tagged ‘economy’

A defiant Sony scrambles to find a way out for ‘The Interview’

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2014 at 1:00 am

Sony exec 'considering' on-demand release 

Will any company step up and help Sony Pictures show the world “The Interview?”

This weekend the embattled movie studio is in active discussions with potential distribution partners, figuring out if there’s a way forward for the film that provoked a crippling cyberattack, an FBI investigation and a presidential critique of the company.

Netflix (NFLX, Tech30), YouTube and major movie theater owners are not commenting.

But CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, who interviewed Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton on Friday, said later on CNN that he came away with the sense that “Sony intends to release this movie in some form, relatively soon. I don’t think we’re talking about six months from now. This movie will be seen.”

What was just a lousy comedy a few short days ago is now a symbol of two essential American values — freedom of expression and freedom from fear.

On Tuesday, the hackers that previously stole terabytes of data from Sony’s servers explicitly targeted the Christmas release of “The Interview” by issuing a message that invoked 9/11. They warned Americans not to venture to movie theaters playing the film.

Sony then signaled that movie theater owners could back out of plans to screen the film if necessary — and they did just that, like a series of falling dominoes.

The owners were concerned that families would forgo holiday season trips to the movies due to safety concerns and hurt every big Christmas film release, not just “The Interview.”

So on Wednesday, with virtually nowhere to show the film, Sony canceled the Christmas release. (Lynton told Zakaria that the studio tried and failed to find a digital distributor, so it ruled out an immediate online release, too.)

Backlash to the decision was ferocious.

On Friday, President Obama echoed the feelings of many in Hollywood when he said Sony had made a mistake: “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.”

Obama also openly worried about the possibility of producers and distributors “engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.”

Related: Sony exec fires back at President Obama

Speaking to Zakaria shortly after the president weighed in, Lynton said he essentially agreed with the president — but that Sony (SNE) couldn’t go it alone.

“We don’t have that direct interface with the American public,” Lynton said. “So we need to go through an intermediary to do that.”

Theoretical distributors include theater chains like AMC and Regal, if they’re willing to reverse their prior decision; cable video-on-demand operators like Comcast (CCV) and Time Warner Cable (TWC); subscription streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon (AMZN, Tech30); and movie rental services like iTunes by Apple (AAPL, Tech30).

Sony Pictures has a video streaming site of its own, Crackle, but it’s free for users and doesn’t have the capability to charge customers to watch a movie. Charging for “The Interview” would help Sony recoup some of the movie’s $44 million budget.

One of the studio’s sibling divisions, Sony Computer Entertainment, has another route to consumers: the PlayStation Store, which lets owners of the video game console rent or buy movies via the Internet. The company has declined to comment on whether it might choose to release “The Interview” there.

You can buy a Sony-style hack 

Of course, Sony — and any company that helps it release the film in the future — has to consider the risk of further intrusions by the hackers and further leaks of the stolen data they already have.

In a threatening message to executives on Thursday night, an anonymous hacker said Sony was “very wise” to cancel the film and claimed they would “ensure the security of your data unless you make additional trouble.”

Releasing the film in some form would presumably be considered “additional trouble.”

Related: Hackers send a new message

But among all the emotions that are spilling forth from Sony’s leaders — anger, fear, frustration — a new one has emerged: defiance.

Lynton told Zakaria that “we’re trying to weigh the options as to how we can get this” released.

Disappointment inside the studio about the lack of support from other major Hollywood players is beginning to subside.

After weeks of almost nothing but silence, The Motion Picture Association of America spoke out forcefully on Friday, following the FBI’s statement that North Korea was behind the late November cyberattack.

Lynton, who was in New York on Friday night, awoke on Saturday morning to a front-page New York Times column that expressed “disgust” at the “readiness of theater owners and Sony to cave in to far-fetched threats.”

But there was also this call by the New York Daily News editorial board: “Patriotism demands: Show the movie and show it now.”

Meantime, the studio released another movie on Friday — the highly-anticipated “Annie.” It had leaked onto illegal film-sharing web sites after the cyberattack, but it is still expected to earn tens of millions of dollars.

“It’s a rare bit of good news for Sony,” The Hollywood Reporter said, for a studio that needs some.

Related: N. Korea blasts ‘childish attempt to frame us’

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Republicans to theaters: Don’t be ‘bullied,’ show Sony’s ‘The Interview’

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2014 at 1:00 am

Sony exec: 'We have not caved' 

The Republican National Committee has a message for theater owners: Put “The Interview” back on your screens.

In a letter obtained first by CNN, RNC chairman Reince Priebus encouraged the CEOs of 10 major theater chains to show the controversial comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.

“I want to speak clearly on behalf of the Republican Party: I urge you to show the movie,” he wrote to the CEOs.

“As a sign of my commitment, if you agree to show this movie, I will send a note to the Republican Party’s millions of donors and supporters urging them to buy a ticket — not to support one movie or Hollywood, but to show North Korea we cannot be bullied into giving up our freedom,” he added.

The letter continued, “Like many Americans, I’m deeply concerned that we would allow a foreign regime to dictate the movies we can and cannot watch.”

The RNC petition underscored the increasingly political nature of the fracas surrounding the film and the devastating cyberattack that was directed at Sony Pictures one month before its scheduled release.

This weekend the embattled movie studio is in active discussions with potential distribution partners, figuring out if there’s a way forward for the film that provoked the attack, an FBI investigation and a presidential critique of the company.

Sony representatives declined to comment on the RNC letter.

A spokesman for the association that represents theater owners did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When debating whether to screen “The Interview” — if Sony were to reverse its decision — the owners have to consider a complicated set of factors, including customers’ concerns about security, commitments to screen other films, and overall revenue potential.

Obama: Sony made a 'mistake' 

President Obama calls out Sony: The letter comes one day after President Obama publicly chastised Sony for canceling the movie. Sony “made a mistake,” the president said at an afternoon news conference.

Obama’s comment led Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton to tell CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that the president — and others — were “mistaken” about what had happened.

“We do not own movie theaters,” Lynton said. “We cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters.”

Lynton indicated that it was the theater owners that backed away from the film following a Tuesday threat from hackers that invoked 9/11.

Sony then canceled the film’s Christmas release. But it is now seeking help to distribute the film in theaters or online.

Issue ‘goes far beyond politics’: The letter marks a strange bedfellows moment in the controversy over the movie, as the RNC itself acknowledged.

“As you know, the Republican Party and Hollywood have at times been at odds,” the letter states. “But we can all agree that the current situation regarding the release of ‘The Interview’ goes far beyond politics. It is about freedom and free enterprise.”

It also suggested to the theater owners and Sony (SNE) that “a share of the profits be donated to the USO or the Yellow Ribbon Fund.”

The letter contributed to a feeling of national unity with regard to freedom of expression. Similar sentiments have been heard on television, in newspaper op-eds and on social media.

But at the same time, the letter did include a political shot across the aisle, accusing Obama of sending “mixed messages on this issue.”

An RNC spokesman said “mixed messages” referred to the contrast between the president’s comments in an ABC interview on Wednesday — when he passed on an opportunity to criticize Sony — and Friday, when he did.

However, the ABC interview was taped before Sony pulled the film from Christmas release.

Online reactions to the letter varied on Saturday night: While some people decried it as a publicity stunt, others said it was a necessary statement that might increase public pressure on Sony and the theater owners.”

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How has middle class Christmas changed?

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2014 at 12:51 pm
christmas spending then now

The middle class are feeling more and more squeezed these days … is that partly because they have to put more gifts — and pricier ones — under the Christmas tree?

CNNMoney wants to know what was under your Christmas tree 30 years ago (Think: Trivial Pursuit, Cabbage Patch dolls, Transformers) and what are you wrapping this year (Think: iPhones, Fitbits and PlayStation)?

Do you, your kids or grandkids expect more expensive presents nowadays? Is it more than you gave or received 30 years ago?

Tell us about it.

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Last-minute Christmas shopping guide

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Will UPS' weathermen save Christmas? 

Still haven’t ordered those stocking stuffers? You’ve got to hurry, or your gift won’t arrive by Christmas.

You’ve already missed the deadline for free shipping from Amazon (AMZN, Tech30), for example. (It was Friday.)

But the online store says gifts ordered as late as Tuesday can still be under the tree on Thursday if you pay for one-day delivery. Some customers in major cities can even place orders by 10 a.m. on Christmas Eve and receive same-day delivery.

Hitting the stores: If you want to do your last-minute shopping the old fashioned way, expect stores to be crowded and lines to be long this weekend.

Many stores like Target (TGT) and J.C. Penney (JCP) will be open for extended hours.

Toys ‘R’ Us and Kohl’s (KSS) will be remain open all hours until Christmas eve.

Shopping online: And you can also shop online at these same stores.

Walmart’s (WMT) free shipping deadline passed (last Wednesday), but “rush shipping” is available through Monday for a fee. And if the item is in stock at a nearby store, orders for in-store pickup can be placed even on Christmas Eve.

There’s still time for free shipping through Best Buy (BBY). It says orders over $35 placed by 11:30 a.m. ET on Monday qualify for free delivery by Christmas. It also offers free in-store pickup.

The deadline at Kohl’s and Target is Saturday. Sears’ and Macy’s is Monday.

Last call at the Post Office: If you already have a gift you have to mail, that clock is ticking, too. The U.S. Postal Service will accept packages through Tuesday for Priority Mail Express. You can save a few bucks — and time in line — by dropping off the package by Saturday and using First Class Mail (for Christmas cards) or Priority Mail (for packages).

The deadline for Thursday delivery from UPS (UPS) and FedEx (FDX) is Tuesday.

Related: Toys ‘R’ Us extends hours for last-minute shoppers

Related: Mall Santa 101

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Justin Bieber just lost 3.5 million Instagram followers

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2014 at 12:36 am

Instagram wipes out fake followers 

Justin Bieber has been left behind by the Instagram Rapture.

The “Baby” crooner lost a whopping 3.5 million followers after Instagram purged all the spam and deadweight from its site this week. Fake accounts comprised nearly 15% of Bieber’s Instagram following.

Instagram went after spam in a major way this week, deleting millions of fake accounts in what has become dubbed the “Instagram Rapture.”

It turns out that the celebrities on the Internet are not as famous as we thought. Some of the biggest names in show business shed the largest numbers of fake followers on Instagram, with the Bieb leading the way, according to data compiled by Zach Allia, a software developer.

Ariana Grande — you’ve heard of her — lost 1.5 million followers, or 7% of her total. Kim Kardashian barely qualifies as being famous anymore, after Instagram shed all her fake bits, losing 1.3 million followers, or 5.5% of her total.

Related: ‘The Interview’ was supposed to bring in $100 million

Rihanna, perhaps better known as badgirlriri, also lost a ton of fake weight, shedding more than 1.1 million followers, or 8% of her total following on Instagram. Taylor Swift fared better than a lot of her fellow celebs, losing a mere 725,000, or 4.4%. And Selena Gomez, the Bieb’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, lost 1.1 million Instagram followers, shedding 5.7% of her weight.

bieber instagram
Justin Bieber lost his shirt – and about 3.5 million fake followers – in the Instagram Rapture.

While the Bieb was hard hit, Instagram itself was the biggest loser, shedding more than 18.8 million followers, or nearly 30% of its total, in the culling.

The social media site, owned by Facebook (FB, Tech30), announced last week that it has 300 million users — not including all the spam it eliminated.

Celebrities use to promote their brands and advertise sponsors that endorse them. Accounts with large numbers of followers can score big bucks from advertisers.

Related: Antique guns up for auction

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The heart of the Internet has been hacked

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2014 at 12:36 am

Visualize the whole Internet with an app 

The all-powerful but little-known organization that administers all global website domain names has been hacked.

Um, embarrassing much?

The nonprofit group — called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — revealed the hack in a website post earlier this week, saying the intrusion began in November.

However, the damage in this case seems to be limited.

The organization confirmed that a key department, which is in charge of ensuring the global Internet network runs smoothly, was not affected.

According to ICANN, the hackers got into the system using “spear phishing,” which involved sending targeted emails to ICANN staff that appeared to be internal messages. This allowed the attackers to access the email system and other public and internal networks.

It seems the key area that was compromised was an online site where people could request information about domain names. ICANN says hackers were able to see all user names, addresses, emails, phone numbers and passwords, though the passwords were encrypted.

“ICANN is providing notices to the … users whose personal information may have been compromised,” the organization said, though it didn’t say how many people were affected.

ICANN says the attack could have been worse if it weren’t for some new security upgrades that had been put in place this year.

“We believe these [security] enhancements helped limit the unauthorized access obtained in the attack,” it said. “Since discovering the attack, we have implemented additional security measures.”

This is the latest in a string of powerful people and organizations that have been hit by hackers this year, including Sony (SNE) and Home Depot (HD).

Related: Everything you need to know about the Sony mega-hack

Related: ‘The Interview’ was expected to bring in $100 million for Sony

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Why North Korea’s attack should leave every company scared stiff

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2014 at 12:36 am

Fmr. Sony security consultant on hack 

Watch your back, Corporate America, or you could become the next Sony.

The attack on Sony (SNE) Pictures inflicted crippling damage in a way that past hacks have not. Stolen corporate secrets, customer passwords and credit card numbers from previous cyberattacks haven’t left a lasting impact on companies, and they haven’t kept their customers away.

By succeeding in its mission to get Sony to pull “The Interview,” hackers have provided a blueprint for really hurting American companies: Break into their computers, steal data, erase files, expose private documents, then make a physical threat.

“The problem now is not the hack. It’s how Sony responded to it. It’s the cave-in,” said Peter W. Singer, a renowned author of several books on cyberwar. “They rewarded and incentivized attacks on the rest of us.”

President Obama addressed the intimidation of Sony — and its decision to pull the movie — at a press conference Friday.

“I think they made a mistake,” Obama said. “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.”

North Korea sponsored the attack on Sony, the FBI said in an unprecedented claim on Friday. Unlike most attacks conducted by Russian and Chinese hackers, North Korea’s hackers were relentless. They completely embarrassed Sony and made movie theaters afraid to carry its film.

In the past, most U.S. corporations have brushed off cyberattacks levied against themselves or their peers. That means most are just as unprepared for hackers as Sony was.

After seeing what happened to Sony, companies should be shaking in their boots.

“This sort of attack could be reproduced using the same techniques,” said Orla Cox, director of security response at Symantec (SYMC, Tech30). “This should be a wake up call for organizations,”

Sony’s attack was frightfully easy to pull off. This could have been the work of a tiny team of bright computer programmers — maybe as small as three people, said Kaspersky Lab security researcher Roel Schouwenberg. In fact, the whole operation could have been outsourced to hackers-for-hire, noted Art Gilliland, general manager of security for HP (HPQ, Tech30).

Now, companies must make a calculated decision every time it gets aggressive with a competitor or makes a controversial move. Hackers could be lurking to take them down.

“Media, pharmaceutical, energy companies. Everybody’s got enemies,” said Craig Carpenter, president of Resolution1 Security. “This Sony hack shows you can be brought to your knees if you’re not capable of shutting something like this down before it gets out of hand.”

Sony pulls 'The Interview' release  

But stopping cyberattacks takes a big investment — one that companies so far have been unwilling to make.

The barrage of cyberattacks is nonstop. Computer alarms go off maybe 5,000 times a day at a large company like Sony, Carpenter said. Every time an employee visits a sketchy website or a new app enters the network, an alarm goes off. In many cases, those must be manually checked by a member of the company’s security team.

The workload outpaces the number of workers assigned to keep companies safe. That’s how hackers slip in unnoticed and start their work. On average, it takes a company 243 days to discover a breach, according to the M-Trends 2013 report by Mandiant, a computer security consultant.

Once upon a time, companies only had to worry about cybercriminals trying to steal credit cards or foreign government spies seeking company secrets to assist competitors.

Now, the list of worries could include the Islamic State — or any other small, determined group who thinks they’ve been offended.

“Who should companies fear? Anyone that wants to do harm to a corporation,” said Lee Weiner, an executive at Rapid7. “It’s very hard to define who that could be. Are they hacktivists? Cybercriminals? Chaotic actors? It’s hard to quantify that today.”

How a balloon drop over North Korea works 

Related: Activists plan to drop ‘Interview’ DVDs in North Korea

Related: Movies are the least of Sony’s problems

Related: How safe are you? CNN’s cybersecurity magazine

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All I want for Christmas: Boobs

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2014 at 12:36 am
plastic surgery Christmas
A new Christmas tradition: Plastic surgery.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … two breast implants, a tummy tuck and a rhinoplasty.

That may be a riff on the original, but it’s a tune many are singing this holiday season, as more people are asking Santa to go under the knife.

Holiday gift giving has become a staple at many cosmetic surgery practices, and the popularity has grown over the last several years, according to Tom Seery, Founder and CEO of, a consumer website for patients considering cosmetic procedures.

Seery said that people are widely more accepting of nips and tucks than they used to be, and the fact that it’s become more mainstream makes people more comfortable admitting they want something done.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 15.1 million people had cosmetic procedures in the U.S. in 2013, up 104% from 2000.

“Because of that, cosmetic surgery is much less of an awkward conversation to have around the dinner table,”Seery said.

The most common plastic surgery gifts to give are anything involving the face — from fillers to lifts — and breast augmentations, according to Dr. Yoel Shahar, a plastic surgeon in New York.

The Christmas season is the busiest time of year for most plastic surgeons, because people have time off to get the procedures and then recover.

Related: Why so many men are obsessed with ‘Bro-tox’

This year, Heidi, a mother of three living on Long Island, NY, won’t be looking for the jewelry box her husband usually leaves under the tree. Instead, she’s getting a new kind of gift — money toward the facial filler Juvederm, which she’ll have injected into the area under her eyes at Marotta Facial Plastic Surgery Center.

“I was so excited when he told me, because I’m always complaining that I look so tired and my husband knows this,” said Heidi, who requested that we not use her last name.

Cosmetic surgery is a major splurge, so it’s an obvious choice for a gift wish list. The average cost of breast augmentation surgery was $3,678 in 2013, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The average face lift cost was $6,556 and a tummy tuck was $5,217.

As in Heidi’s case, the majority of these gifts come from a significant other. A survey of RealSelf community members found that, of those who had gotten some kind of a procedure as a gift, 75% received it from their romantic partner or spouse.

But this gift idea comes with a caveat: About one third of respondents said they’d be offended if a family member, romantic partner or a friend gifted them a cosmetic procedure.

It could sound downright Grinch-like to give a gift that implies your loved one could use some work, but doctors say that’s not generally the case.

Dr. Scot Glasberg, a private practice plastic surgeon based in New York City, and president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, said he sees procedures being gifted all the time, but usually the patient has already had a consultation and has independently decided to have work done. The third party is only involved in the payment part, not the decision to do it.

Glasberg recently met with a patient that had come to him solo for a breast augmentation. But the check came from her boyfriend, who paid for the procedure as a Hanukkah gift.

“There are a lot of red flags as a surgeon, once you hear the word gift,” he said. “The key is to make sure they’re getting it for the right reasons — to help with body image or self-esteem, not as a way to enhance a relationship.”

Related: Mall Santa 101: The making of the perfect Mr. Claus

Heidi thought her husband’s gesture meant he had been listening to all her complaining and had gotten her what she really wanted.

“I thought it was very thoughtful that he cared that much, and you know, happy wife, happy life.”

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Hackers to Sony: We’ll stand down if you never release the movie

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2014 at 12:36 am

Hackers claim they're done if film never airs 

The hackers behind a devastating cyberattack at Sony Pictures have sent a new message to executives at the company, crediting them for a “very wise” decision to cancel the Christmas day release of “The Interview,” a source close to the company told CNN.

The email message was received by Sony’s top executives on Thursday night and was obtained by CNN.

The source said that the company believes the email was from the hackers because it followed a pattern of previous messages, sent to a list of particular executives and formatted in a particular way.

A Sony spokesman declined to comment.

Also on Friday, President Obama said he disagreed with Sony’s decision.

“I am sympathetic to the concerns that they face. Having said all that, yes I think they made a mistake,” Obama said at a White House press conference.

“We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can impose censorship here in the U.S.,” he added.

Obama: Sony made a 'mistake' 

Related: FBI: North Korea responsible for Sony hack

The FBI has officially linked the cyberattack at Sony to the North Korean government.

“The destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart,” the FBI said in a statement.

The Motion Picture Association of America called the hack a “despicable, criminal act” on Friday.

“This situation is larger than a movie’s release or the contents of someone’s private emails,” said Chris Dodd, CEO of the lobbying group. “This is about the fact that criminals were able to hack in and steal what has now been identified as many times the volume of all of the printed material in the Library of Congress.”

The hacker message is effectively a victory lap, telling the studio, “Now we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy.”

The message also says, “And we want everything related to the movie, including its trailers, as well as its full version down from any website hosting them immediately.”

It warns the studio executives that “we still have your private and sensitive data” and claims that they will “ensure the security of your data unless you make additional trouble.”

The email was titled “Message from GOP.” The anonymous hackers have called themselves “Guardians of Peace.”

Sony is still reeling from the late November cyberattack that crippled its computer systems, and now it is under severe scrutiny for canceling the Christmas release of “The Interview,” Seth Rogen and James Franco’s comedy about an attempted assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

U.S. officials now believe North Korea instigated the hack, lending credence to the Sony executives who privately started calling it a “terrorist act” weeks ago.

Since the cancellation on Wednesday, the same executives have been wondering whether the leaks of private emails and corporate documents would now stop.

Thursday night’s message implied that the leaks will stop.

In a statement on Wednesday when the film’s release was scrapped, the company said “we stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

Many lashed out at the studio for its unprecedented decision to pull the movie. Others have rallied around Sony’s predicament.

George Clooney, in an interview with on Thursday, revealed that he had circulated a petition earlier in the week saying “we fully support Sony’s decision not to submit to these hackers’ demands” — but no one was willing to sign it.

“It was a large number of people. It was sent to basically the heads of every place,” Clooney said without naming names.

The petition said, “This is not just an attack on Sony. It involves every studio, every network, every business and every individual in this country,” and it concluded, “We hope these hackers are brought to justice but until they are, we will not stand in fear. We will stand together.”

It’s outdated now, since Sony did cancel “The Interview.” In the interview, Clooney expressed sadness that “as we watched one group be completely vilified, nobody stood up.”

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How to pick the best dividend stocks

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2014 at 12:36 am
Disney Christmas
Disney recently announced a 34% dividend increase for 2014.

Investing in dividend stocks can be a powerful and effective strategy to obtain superior returns over time.

However, there is much more to successful dividend investing that simply going after companies with big yields. Disney (DIS), Starbucks (SBUX), and TJX (TJX) (parent company of T.J. Maxx) show that investing in businesses with increasing dividends and healthy fundamentals can be the key to outperforming the markets in the long term.

The importance of dividend growth: According data from Goldman Sachs, dividend stocks tend to outperform their nondividend-paying counterparts by a considerable margin over time. A $10,000 investment in nondividend stocks in 1972 would have turned into $26,417 by 2013, while investing the same amount in dividend-paying stocks would have resulted in $413,073.

That staggering difference provides solid evidence in favor of dividend investing. However, that’s only part of the story: Results tend to be even better when investing in companies with consistent dividend growth. A $10,000 position in companies raising their dividends on an annual basis or starting new dividend payments would have turned into an even larger $559,702 by the end of the period under study.

Related: Don’t Worry About the Drop in Oil Prices, Worry About This Instead

Dividends don’t only provide income to investors, they also say a lot about a company’s fundamentals and financial strength. Sustainable dividend growth demonstrates the business is producing increasing sales and expanding cash flow, and this is can be a powerful return driver over time.

In addition to paying attention to dividend growth, it’s important to understand the fundamentals and competitive strengths behind those payouts to make sure the business can sustain increasing dividend distributions over time.

1. Disney

Disney recently announced a 34% dividend increase for 2014. What started as an annual distribution of $0.39 per share in 2009 has grown to $1.15 per share. The House of Mouse has reported record sales and earnings over the last four consecutive years, and management is optimistic regarding growth prospects in the middle term.

Disney owns tremendously valuable competitive assets in its brand and intellectual properties, and the company is proving its ability to translate those strengths into growing dividends for shareholders. The movie pipeline is full of promising launches, including the next Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens,” which is scheduled for release in December 2015.

Related: Warren Buffett Tells You How to Turn $40 Into $10 Million

The payout ratio is comfortably low, under 25% of average earnings estimates for the coming year. This means Disney offers substantial room for dividend growth, especially if the company continues leveraging its unique assets to produce rising sales and earnings in the years ahead.

2. Starbucks

Starbucks is one of the most remarkable growth stories in the consumer sector over the last several years, as the company has built a gigantic global coffee emporium with more than 21,300 stores. Even better, management intends to generate $30 billion in sales by fiscal 2019, almost doubling the $16 billion in revenue produced in fiscal 2014.

Growth plans are clearly ambitious, but Starbucks is benefiting from multiple growth engines and management has proven its ability to capitalize on opportunities in a profitable way. Store base growth, more drink and food offerings, lunch and evening day-part expansion, and mobile payments and delivery are some of the growth venues the company is planning to lever to achieve its targets.

Related: Starbucks has decades of growth ahead

Starbucks started distributing regular dividends in 2010, and the company has raised payments from $0.10 per share quarterly to a much hotter $0.32; this includes a caffeinated dividend hike of 23% for 2014. The payout ratio is also quite safe, in the neighborhood of 40% of earnings forecasts for fiscal 2015.

3. TJX Companies

Fashion is a fickle and competitive industry, but TJX’s smart and differentiated business model has allowed the company to generate consistent financial performance over time. The off-price retailer of apparel and home fashions has delivered growing comparable-store sales over the last 23 consecutive quarters, an impressive track record in such a challenging business.

TJX sources products from more than 16,000 vendors in over 75 countries. The company provides department stores the opportunity to clear excess inventory under favorable conditions; this gives TJX significant bargaining power with suppliers, which it translates into discounts of between 20% and 60% versus traditional retail prices.

These bargains resonate with customers through good and bad economic times, which has allowed TJX to deliver extraordinary dividend growth over the years: the company has grown its dividend an average rate of 23% per year through the last 18 years. The payout ratio is also comfortably low, under 20% of earnings forecasts for the next fiscal year.

When picking the best dividend stocks, investors need to look beyond yields, as companies with rapidly growing payouts and strong fundamentals can be particularly profitable investments. Companies such as Disney, Starbucks, and TJX are well positioned to continue delivering substantial dividend growth over time, which says a lot about the potential returns for these companies’ investors over the long term.

Andrés Cardenal is an investor who writes for The Motley Fool.

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