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Profit Margins at 18-Year High Signal Bigger Dividends

Record earnings fueled by the highest profit margins since 1993 are giving executives more leeway than ever to boost dividends as the bull market enters its third year.

Margins will climb to 8.9 percent in 2011, the highest level in at least 18 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on non-financial companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index through March 11. Greater profitability combined with dividend cuts during the credit crisis have pushed earnings to