The most convincing thing about our three-year-old bull market is the rising tide of dividends underpinning it.
During the late unlamented dot.com boom, dividends fell deeply out of fashion. Under-age entrepreneurs went round saying they knew best how to use what cash there was. It was a wicked waste to pay it to shareholders. They got away with it. Anyway few of them were making any profits to cover a dividend. So long as their share prices were rocketing nobody was bothered.
Well, today's share prices are not rocketing dot com style, but they have been doing very nicely, this time accompanied by equally nice dividends.
Every company reporting a half-decent result for 2005 is raising its dividend by more than inflation, most by a great deal more. Yesterday Aviva, our biggest insurer, which slashed its pay-out in a dark moment in 2002, abandoned a policy of five per cent increases set at that time and upped its final pay-out by nine per cent.
In truth, the vogue for returning cash to shareholders has probably o ver-reached itself. On Wednesday, James Crosby, chief executive of HBOS - a man who devised a unique wheeze to make a huge refund tax-free when he merged Halifax with Bank of Scotland - had to field questions about why he was not buying back shares like the Royal Bank of Scotland when he had the stronger balance sheet.
It is a function of cheap money. An "efficient" balance sheet is one bolstered with borrowed cash costing far less than any tolerably competent manager can earn on it. Private equity outfits take it to extremes.
Rising interest rates - they are now creeping up in Europe as well as the US - will shift the balance of advantage. But there is no serious risk of their rising far enough to spoil the attraction of dividends.
That is - they go up. The yield on the Footsie is 3.1 per cent. You can get one per cent more on medium-term Government stock or leaving your cash on deposit. Yet it is not too difficult to find a selection of shares with a record of d ouble-digit dividend increases and a reasonable prospect of more to come.
Like that, it doesn't take many years or undue luck for the income from equities to overtake that from fixed interest stocks and deposits -providing dividends don't go out of fashion again.
That rising income comes with the certainty that the capital value of the shares will go down as well as up along the way. But so long as dividends go on outpacing inflation there should be more ups than downs.
Amid all the chatter about Tessa Jowell's political survival and the delicate distinction between fees and bribes in Italy, I have been struck by the financial arrangements of the Jowell/Mills household.
For one very good reason, I have never been tempted to hock the house and stake the proceeds on a "hot" hedge fund. When asked to sign the mortgage application my wife would have asked what I intended to do with the money and then ripped the thing up. But then she has never been a Cabinet Minister.