At the start of 2007, 1,953 companies that had billion-dollar market caps traded on the major U.S. markets. Nineteen of them -- a mere 1% of the starting pool -- have given their shareholders greater than a 160% return. The odds of hitting one of these elite winners seem slim to impossible.

Here's a nicer winning percentage for you: 21%. That's the percentage of the Noble 19 you'll find on our Foolish newsletter scorecards, four for 19. And we're not just riding the stock charts here -- none of them was picked any later than January 2007.

Company

Newsletter(s)

YTD Return

Baidu.com (NASDAQ:BIDU)

Rule Breakers

255%

Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG)

Rule Breakers

249%

Priceline.com (NASDAQ:PCLN)

Stock Advisor

171%

Chipotle Mexican Grill
(NYSE:CMG) (NYSE:CMG-B)

Rule Breakers,
Hidden Gems

167%

You'll note a couple of things in this list. First, it's a diverse bunch of companies: a Chinese search engine, a robotic surgery expert, an all-American virtual travel agency, and some tasty burritos. The newsletter picks even look more diverse than the 19-ticker list itself: Limit the list to companies from the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) bloc or nitrogen fertilizer producers, and those two categories alone make up 10 of the 19.

Second, one newsletter stands out from the pack -- Rule Breakers raked in three of the top one-percenters this year. That's out of a pool of 42 active recommendations as of January 2007, to place 7% of the Breakers in the top 1% of the market's performers in 2007. You can't beat that with a hickory hockey stick.

Well, our analysts didn't nail the very top of the heap, such as top performer First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) and its 840% return. And we Fools certainly talk about Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) a lot -- even fight over it at times -- but haven't singled it out for the kind of long-term excellence you'd expect from a Foolish newsletter pick.

That's OK. It's hard to complain when that means doubling or tripling your money in a year. Some of these one-year outperformers are sure to fall back to Earth again, so we'd rather tell you about long-term excellence than the latest flash in the pan.

Given the returns that are possible, it's hard not to take at least an occasional swing for the fences when a long-term growth story presents itself.  As long as you can play through the strikeouts, of course. To find some ideas on what could get into this article in December 2008, try a free, 30-day trial pass to our Rule Breakers service.  

Further Foolishness:

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As shown above, Baidu, Intuitive Surgical, and Chipotle are Rule Breakers recommendations. Chipotle is also a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. Priceline is a Stock Advisor pick.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a very happy Intuitive Surgical investor, but sadly holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. There's always next year. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure swings for the fences on every pitch.