Johnson & Johnson Band-Aids © Toby Talbot, AP Photo

Stocks that pay dividends have been hot lately. But despite the recent rally -- the Dow Jones U.S. Select Dividend Index ($DJDVP) is up 10% so far this year -- there still are some decent opportunities, especially for investors willing to think globally.

One factor driving the boom: Investors now earn paltry rates on bonds and certificates of deposit. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX), by contrast, carries a yield of about 2.2%, and many stocks pay considerably more. (Yields, which fall as prices rise, are the annual payout as a percentage of a stock's price.)

It might be tempting to think the trend has run its course. Among household-name dividend stocks, utility American Electric Power (AEP) is up 21% from a year ago, tobacco giant Altria Group (MO) has shot up 28%, and pharmaceuticals company Pfizer (PFE) has jumped 45%.

But while dividend-stock prices have been rising, so have payouts. "Dividends have had a fantastic year and a half," says Howard Silverblatt, senior analyst at S&P. Overall, payouts are up 16% so far this year, as companies hand back more of their rising earnings. The third quarter saw record dividend payouts, he says, "and we expect the fourth quarter to beat that."

So where can investors still find reasonable value?

If you are buying stocks for grandma -- or anyone who is concerned about income more than capital growth -- it makes sense to stick with bigger companies that have strong balance sheets and businesses, especially if the companies operate in many different countries.

Companies in highly cyclical industries -- from finance to heavy manufacturing -- are probably best avoided, since they can be volatile. The sweet spots are essential services and consumer staples, which tend to enjoy fairly smooth sailing in good times and bad.

Money managers on both sides of the Atlantic say three sectors stand out as particularly attractive: pharmaceutical companies, big energy and telecommunications companies. There also might be opportunities in consumer companies and among utilities based in Europe.

Pharmaceuticals -- a big, stable industry with wide profit margins and strong payouts -- is a well-established sector for dividend hunters, but many companies have rocketed this year. Steve Russell, a money manager at Ruffer & Co., a value-oriented investment firm in London with $22 billion under management, recommends Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), part pharmaceutical stock, part consumer staple. It yields 3.5%.

The company has a strong balance sheet and outstanding franchises. Boston fund firm GMO, which has $99 billion under management, had more than 5% of its high-quality U.S. stock portfolio in J&J at the end of August.

The biggest U.S. telecoms, AT&T (T) and Verizon Communications (VZ), already have risen a long way. You can find better yields elsewhere, especially outside the U.S. But you have to be careful: Some companies are saddled with a lot of debt, declining landline businesses or both. Spain's Telefónica (TEF), for example, with a nominal yield of 12%, is a speculative play.

Judy Saryan, who runs the $980 million Eaton Vance Tax-Managed Global Dividend Income Fund (ETG), likes U.K.-based Vodafone (VOD), the world's largest operator of cellular networks. (So does Russell.) Vodafone trades at just 11 times projected per-share earnings for the next four quarters and yields 5%. Its balance sheet is strong, and it is geographically diversified. Vodafone also owns 45% of Verizon Wireless.

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