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, Varian Medical Systems (NYSE: VAR ) .
Varian Medical Systems shares have easily outperformed the S&P 500 over the past quarter-century, with most of the outperformance occurring in the past decade:
Since 1987, shares have returned an average of 14.5% 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 Varian Medical Systems, it'd be worth $76,200.
Dividends accounted for a lot of those gains. Compounded since 1987, dividends have made up about a third of Varian Medical Systems' total returns. For the S&P, dividends account for 39% of total returns.
Now have a look at how Varian Medical Systems earnings compare with S&P 500 earnings:
Nice outperformance here, too. Since 1995, Varian Medical Systems earnings per share have increased by an average of 8.9% a year, compared with 6% a year for the broader index.
What's that meant for valuations? Varian Medical Systems has traded for an average of 24 times earnings since 1987 -- nearly identical to the broader S&P 500.
Through it all, shares have been strong performers 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 Varian Medical Systems with a five-star rating (out of five). Care to disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or add Varian Medical Systems to My Watchlist.