As Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” You might think the same would apply to company stocks but it doesn’t. Each happy FTSE 100 (INDEXFTSE: UKX) stock is happy in the same way, while each unhappy stock is unhappy in the same way.

Income winners

The best performing stocks on the FTSE 100 over the last 10 years (in terms of total return) all have one thing in common, as do the worst performers, according to new figures produced for Motley Fool by trading platform AJ Bell.

The top 20 stocks produced a “very strong pattern of consistent dividend growth,” according to investment director Russ Mould. Seven of the top 10 (Paddy Power Betfair, ARM Holdings, Ashtead, Compass, DCC, Shire and Intertek) raised their shareholder distribution EACH AND EVERY YEAR between 2006 and 2015. 

Of the other three, Admiral Group and SABMiller made just one minor cut, with Randgold Resources an exception by making three. All three companies still managed at least six dividend increases between 2006 and 2015.

Dividend disasters

The reverse is true for the bottom 20 FTSE 100 performers. Every single one of the bottom 20 has cut their dividend during the last 10 years. That’s right, no exceptions.

The very worst performing stock of all, Royal Bank of Scotland Group, canned its dividend during the financial crisis in 2008 and is still a long way from restoring it. Share price performance has also been woeful: if you’d invested £5,000 in June 2006, your money would be worth just £263 today. The outlook remains poor, with the stock falling another 30% in the last 12 months.

Second worst performer was another bank, Lloyds Banking Group, which turned £5,000 into £1,691 over the decade. Lloyds has started to pay its dividend again and currently yields 3.19%. Better still, it’s forecast to hit 6.7% by the end of this year, and 7.8% by December 2017, making Lloyds my favourite stock on the FTSE 100 right now

How low can you go?

Barclays is the next biggest loser having reduced £5,000 to £2,248 over 10 years. Again, it slashed its dividend in the financial crisis and has been slow to restore it. It’s on a forecast yield of just 1.9% for December 2017 (below today’s 3.6%), suggesting that Barclays investors still have a bumpy road ahead of them.

Mining giant Anglo American turned £5,000 into £2,330 despite this year’s snap-back, which has seen the stock rise 128% in the last six months. Despite the recent bounce I think the road ahead remains long and treacherous as Chinese demand slows. Again, its dividend has gone, and won’t return for some time yet.

Food for thought

Fifth-worst performer of the last decade is grocery giant Tesco, which turned £5,000 into £3,262. The share price has recovered slightly in recent months but low wage growth, German incursions and changing shopping habits suggest to me that Tesco will continue to lag rather than challenge the leaders.

Russ Mould says his figures show the secret to successful investing is finding firms with strong business models, management and finances that allow them to consistently reward shareholders with dividends, particularly rising dividends. That’s something the Fool has been saying for years.

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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended ARM Holdings, Barclays, Intertek, and Paddy Power Betfair. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.