What have been the best stocks to own in this new millennium, by all accounts the most Britney-filled of all the millennia on record so far? And what, if anything, can we learn by simply running a couple of quick computerized screens to find the answer?

The results are different from any predictions that I recall seeing or hearing when we said goodbye to the old millennium, which, for the purposes of this column (and acknowledging arguments to the contrary), we'll assume ended on Dec. 31, 1999

This was supposed to be the decade, century, and millennium of Internet shopping, online brokers, biotech, renewable fuels, regenerating limbs, and every other visionary departure from the mundane and antiquated mechanisms that got us through the dark and uneducated times known as the 20th century.

The runners-up ...
In terms of which companies have grown sales the most this century, a lot of those forward-looking companies have indeed been awesome. Unfortunately, they haven't been nearly awesome enough to translate into rewards for late-1999 purchasers of their stocks. Just take a look at the returns from these companies, which have grown sales by more than 20% annually for the past eight-plus years and had sales of at least $100 million already in 1999.


8-Year Annualized Revenue Growth Rate

Stock Price
Change Since

Flextronics (NASDAQ:FLEX)



Foundry Networks (NASDAQ:FDRY)









Data from Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's.

These companies are by no means failures. Look at those compounded eight-year growth rates! HLTH has been a free cash flow-generating machine -- but by the time the end of 1999 rolled around, the expectations embedded in its stock price required even more growth than it achieved.

And the winners are ...
So what has done well this millennium? Done well? Forget that! What's done the best?

I ran a screen for the best-performing stocks of the millennium, with the caveat that they had to have share prices of $5 or more at market close on Dec. 31, 1999.

A few companies at the top of the list are household names. This millennium has been very profitable for shareholders of Southwestern Energy (NYSE:SWN) and Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD), for example.

But you'll also see some big winners you may not know. Take a look:



1999 Market Cap

Price Change This Millennium


Electricity and gas meters



Lufkin Industries

Oilfield pumping units



General Cable Corp.

Industrial electrical equipment



Ametek (NYSE:AME)

Electronic instruments



Dollar amounts in millions. Data from Capital IQ.

Other industries represented near the top of the list included fastener products, pool supplies, and trucking.

There's nothing special about those results or this particular time frame; the same thing would be shown in nearly any randomly chosen longer-term time frame, including 50- or 60-year periods. When Jeremy Siegel set out to study what companies had been the best investments out of the original S&P 500 lineup from 1957 to 2003, he found that the No. 2 and No. 3 companies started out as producers of glass and cans.

The Foolish conclusion
What do many of the Millennial Winners have in common? They were small, established, profitable companies producing things that had worked for decades -- largely ignored things, things that don't usually create headlines or dreams of quick riches.

Of course, that's the point. The better-performing companies of nearly any time period will be those without fanciful expectations built into their stock prices, but with a demonstrated history of consistent success, even as tastes, technologies, and markets change.

These are the kinds of companies we look for in Motley Fool Hidden Gems -- small, ignored companies doing unappreciated, profitable things. It's worked out for us so far, and the strategy has solidly outperformed the S&P 500 over the past five years

If you'd like to learn more about our service, a free, no-risk, 30-day guest pass to Hidden Gems is yours for the taking.

This article was originally published on Sept. 18, 2006. It has been updated.

Bill Barker does not own any stocks mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.