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 individual stocks have performed against the broad S&P 500. 

Step on up, Hess (NYSE: HES).                                                              

Hess shares have underperformed the S&P 500 over the past quarter-century, and with more volatility:  

Hes

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Since 1987, shares have returned an average of 8.3% a year, compared with 9.7% a year for the S&P (both include dividends). That difference adds up fast. One thousand dollars invested in the S&P in 1987 would be worth $19,200 today. In Hess, it'd be worth just $12,800.

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

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

Hesearnings

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Some outperformance here, although again with more volatility. Since 1995, Hess earnings per share have increased by an average of 10% a year, compared with 6% a year for the broader index. 

What's that meant for valuations? Hess has traded for an average of 32 times earnings since 1987 -- above the 24 times earnings of the broader S&P 500. It's far different today, however. Hess currently trades for about 8 times next year's expected earnings.

Through it all, shares have been slight disappointments over the past quarter-century.  

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