Investing isn't easy. Even Warren Buffett counsels that most investors should invest in a low-cost index like the S&P 500. That way, "you'll be buying into a wonderful industry, which in effect is all of American industry," he says.

But there are, of course, companies whose long-term fortunes differ substantially from the index. In this series, we look at how members of the S&P 500 have performed compared with the index itself.

Step on up, Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM).

Archer Daniels Midland shares have slightly underperformed the S&P 500 over the past three decades:

Adm

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Since 1980, shares have returned an average of 10.2% a year, compared with 11.1% a year for the S&P (both include dividends). One thousand dollars invested in the S&P in 1980 would be worth $29,400 today. In Archer Daniels Midland, it'd be worth about $22,000.

Dividends accounted for a lot of those gains. Compounded since 1980, dividends have made up one-third of Archer Daniels Midland's total returns. For the S&P, dividends account for 41.5% of total returns.

Now have a look at how Archer Daniels Midland earnings compared with S&P 500 earnings:

Adm

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Again, not too different from the index. Since 1995, earnings per share have grown by an average of 6.2% a year, compared with 6% a year for the broader index.

What's it all meant for valuations? Not much. Archer Daniels Midland has traded for an average of 20 times earnings since 1980 -- close to the 21 times earnings for the broader S&P 500.

Through it all, shares have been roughly average performers over the past three decades.  

Of course, the important question is whether that will continue. That's where you come in. Our CAPS community currently ranks Archer Daniels Midland with a four-star rating (out of five). Do you disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or add Archer Daniels Midland to My Watchlist.