I'm easily obsessed by what I read. Too much Tom Wolfe and my sentences are paragraph-length head trips. If my bedtime stories come from Stephen King, it'll be a week of sewer-dwelling monster-clowns and the "coppery taste of blood and fear" on the back of my tongue.

These days, I'm obsessed with something a bit less frightening. In fact, it's downright uplifting. I'm talking about the numbers in Jeremy Siegel's book The Future for Investors. In it, the man who's credited with "calling the top" of the Internet bubble -- the timing of which he maintains was luck -- demolishes many of the investing tropes that cost us all time and money.

One of the myths he puts to rest is that obscure and unheard-of stocks are necessary if you hope to trounce the wider market. This is simply not true. And that's especially good news, I think, because I have grave doubts about whether any of us can actually find the next big thing. Don't get me wrong -- I want to find it, but I'm a realist, and I think my odds of catching that train are low.

Siegel's wide-ranging analysis only reinforces that suspicion, scuttling the idea that blindly chasing growth -- in hopes that one or two big winners can make up for a pile of big risks -- will make you wealthy. (Turns out, when you toss a pile of spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks, most of it really does land on the floor. The one or two noodles that remain will not provide a meal.)

No sleuths needed
Here's the most simple and powerful takeaway from Siegel's work: You don't have to look under rocks to find stocks that deliver solid returns.

It's possible to generate market-beating gains with reliable, well-known companies, the kind of stocks you might actually buy, companies that won't give you an ulcer. Let's go to Siegel's numbers. These are the top 10 "survivor" stocks of the original S&P 500, from inception until post-2000, as ranked by their average annual returns:


Annual Return

Average Price-to-Earnings




Abbott Laboratories



Bristol-Myers Squibb



Tootsie Roll Industries (NYSE:TR)



Pfizer (NYSE:PFE)


















Source: Jeremy Siegel, The Future for Investors.

I find this list incredible, because it shows the power of investing in well-known companies. Not one of these firms was a newcomer back in the 1950s. In fact, many of them were already decades old and famous worldwide when the index was created. Yet they all provided market-whomping returns. How is that possible?

Dividends, please
Here's the secret: Those returns are calculated with dividends reinvested. In fact, as Siegel later explains, a healthy dividend, regularly redeployed, is the key to compounding average returns into long-term, market-beating gains.

This makes perfect sense. When strong companies suffer a down market, those dividends buy you more shares. When the markets readjust, you reap the rewards of those additional shares.

The longer I invest, the more I find myself adding these kinds of companies to my portfolio. Of course, being a value type, I try to buy them when they're cheapest, but I'm not afraid to pay up for quality. As the third column in the above table shows, premium companies always demand a bit of a premium price in the market. For what it's worth, these days I'm keeping my eyes open to add more shares of companies that I consider consumer brand powerhouses of the past and future. Kraft (NYSE:KFT) is a classic, and would go well with Clorox (NYSE:CLX), but I'm even stretching the boundaries a bit to account for some of today's trends and realities. On my "hmmm" list are: everywhere, every day eateries such Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) alongside some up-and-coming foreign consumer staples sellers such as FEMSA (NYSE:FMX).

The Foolish bottom line
The lesson looks clear enough to me. Boring, already-well-known dividend-payers can power your returns for decades. You don't have to give up your search for the next big thing, but building (and keeping) a strong portfolio foundation with stocks like these is the smartest way to play.

Their track record for performance makes them perfect for your tax-free retirement accounts, and, as my colleague Robert Brokamp has discussed in his Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement service, a large stable of dividend-payers means income without stock sales. (Let's face it, the best way to heat your house is not to burn the furniture.)

If you'd like to learn more about how dividend-payers like these can help you retire in style, a 30-day guest pass to Rule Your Retirement is free. There's even a featured interview with Jeremy Siegel, where you can learn more about the Wizard of Wharton's research.

This article was originally published Mar. 10, 2006. It has been updated.

Seth Jayson likes to see that cash. At the time of publication, he had shares of Chipotle and FEMSA, but no positions in any other company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Coke, Pfizer, and Colgate-Palmolive are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Chipotle is a recommendation of Hidden Gems and Rule Breakers. Kraft is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Fool rules are here.