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

But there are, of course, companies whose long-term fortunes differ substantially from the index. In this series, we look at how individual stocks have performed against the broad S&P 500.

Step on up, Nordson (Nasdaq: NDSN).                                             

Nordson shares have roughly matched the S&P 500 over the last quarter-century:

Ndsnsp

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Since 1987, shares have returned an average of 9.8% a year, compared with 9.7% a year for the S&P (both include dividends). One thousand dollars invested in the S&P in 1987 would be worth $19,200 today, and, naturally, about the same in Nordson.                                                                                           

Dividends accounted for a lot of those gains. Compounded since 1987, dividends have made up about a third of Nordson's total returns. For the S&P, dividends account for 39% of total returns.

Now have a look at how Nordson earnings compare with S&P 500 earnings:

Ndsnearnings

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Some outperformance, mostly from recent years. Since 1995, Nordson earnings per share have increased by 9.4% per year, compared with 6% a year for the broader index.

What's that meant for valuations? Nordson has traded for an average of 22 times earnings since 1987 -- a bit below the 24 times earnings of the broader S&P 500.

Through it all, shares have been pretty average performers over the last quarter-century.  

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