Here's a trend that will be a surprise this year

Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

The dividend play was supposed to be long gone by now, the victim of a rising rate environment and companies' desire to use cash to grow their businesses rather than just return it to investors.

Yes, well, about that: An expected spike in rates never happened in 2014, and with Wall Street anticipating a volatile year ahead, dividends are likely to remain in vogue.

When all was said and done, issuance was virtually unchanged on an annualized basis: $54.7 billion in 2014 vs. $54.8 billion the previous year, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices data. In fact, the end result may well have been an increase if not for a 5.6 percent quarterly drop in the year's final three months, spurred largely by the collapse in oil prices.

Looking ahead, strategists see another fertile year.

"2015 should easily set another record for cash dividend payments," Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Jones Indices, said in a statement accompanying the data.