Altria Group Inc. (MO) Wednesday said its board increased the company's quarterly dividend by 9.6 percent in a move largely expected by analysts.

Altria, which owns the Philip Morris (search) tobacco companies and most of Kraft Foods Inc. , said its quarterly dividend would now be 80 cents per share, up from 73 cents. The dividend is payable Oct. 11 to holders of record as of Sept. 15, New York-based Altria said. The ex-dividend date is Sept. 13.

An Altria dividend increase has become a rite of late summer for Wall Street. The company has raised its dividend 38 times in the last 36 years.

Analysts had expected an increase of as much as 10 percent this year.

The new annual dividend rate of $3.20 gives Altria a 4.6 percent yield. That leaves Altria with the fifth-highest yield of the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (search), but moves it closer to No. 4 Verizon Communications, which has a 5.03 percent yield.

But Altria shares have also risen 14 percent in 2005, which depresses yield. Companies with higher yields have seen their yields boosted by declines in their stock prices.

Altria shares were up 18 cents at $70.08.