If dividends were a consistent signal of good management practice then it may make sense to value those companies more highly (note that still wouldn't mean you should expect a higher return as that management bonus should be priced in). But, if it ever was true, there are many reasons to think it wouldn't be true today and, in a theoretical sense shouldn't persist anyway. From a theoretical perspective it is essentially a lemon problem - once the signal is known poor managers will fake the signal (which can be overcome to a degree by screening for 'quality of dividend'). But beyond the theoretical in the practical world, tax considerations and investor preference has changed over time and the preference between dividends and share repurchases as a means of returning money is not static regardless of management quality.
Having worked with many finance functions across companies (CFOs, Treasures and their Boards) including on discussions of dividend policy I can personally attest that ultimate dividend decision is at best a weak indicator of management quality - I've seen them from all sides.
Dividends are less popular as a method of returning cash to shareholders, there seems to be more emphasis upon share buybacks. Thus I would expect whatever signals that corporate dividend policy would send to be weaker today than let's say 30 years ago. The message once sent by increasing the dividend is more often now sent by share buybacks. So this is a good point.
Ultimately the best signal of management strength is consistently growing earnings. Consistently growing earnings are assigned a higher multiple than more volatile earnings. Wall Street loves predictability. Growing dividends should be, but are not always, a signal that earnings are growing too. The vote by the Board of Directors to increase dividends are indeed a vote of confidence in the future of the company and its ability to increase earnings. But dividends are not the tail wagging the earnings dog. Dividends are a reflection of earnings. As I said companies are mostly valued at a multiple of their earnings, the "E" is what is all important. We should not lose sight of that.
Other good indicators of management strength are the strength of the corporate balance sheet and how well the management is investing its cash. Is the balance sheet becoming stronger or weaker? Are corporate investments adding value? Pretty much return on investment.
During the time of very low interest rates, it makes sense for a company to add debt to the balance sheet. My argument is that there is a cost of capital to the equity side of the balance sheet as well as the debt side of the balance sheet. By adding debt, a company might be actually reducing its cost of capital. Shareholders of the company stock will expect equity-like returns of 9% to 10% and not just the yield from dividends. Bond holders are only expecting 3% to 5% returns, that is for companies with good credit. In the cases where the stock has a higher yield than its bonds, adding debt to retire stock would actually increase cash flow too.
Again, dividends are an element of return. If stocks historically return 9% to 10% a year and dividend yield is 2%, it is fair to say that at least 20% of the returns of stocks are from dividends. You could also say that capital gains are about 80% of the remaining return from stocks. But what really drives the returns of stocks is the earnings growth of corporate America. The dividends themselves don't cause the historical 9% to 10% return of US stocks.
A fool and his money are good for business.