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, International Paper (NYSE: IP).                                   

International Paper shares have starkly underperformed the S&P 500 over the last quarter-century:

Ipsp

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Since 1987, shares have returned an average of 4.5% 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 International Paper, it'd be worth just $4,100. 

Dividends accounted for a lot of those gains. Compounded since 1987, dividends have made up about 80% of International Paper's total returns. For the S&P, dividends account for 39% of total returns.

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

Ipearnings

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Deep underperformance here, too. Since 1995, International Paper earnings per share have declined by an average of 2.8% a year, compared with 6%-a-year growth for the broader index.

What's that meant for valuations? International Paper has traded for an average of 33 times earnings since 1987 -- above the 24 times earnings of the broader S&P 500. It's far different today, however. IP shares currently trade for about 10 times next year's expected profits.

Through it all, shares have been a disappointment 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 International Paper with a four-star rating (out of five). Care to disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below , or add International Paper to My Watchlist.