In April 2001, we launched The Motley Fool Select, a new product, based on what was little more than a hunch. We believed that there was a significant number of people who would like to read about our best stock ideas in a much more in-depth form than is generally practical on a website. We believed this, in no small part, due to the fact that this was the original reason many of us came to The Motley Fool in the first place. We enjoy digging through financials, looking for companies that have the combination of excellent business prospects and stock prices that offer investors good opportunities.

We were trying to meet two market needs. First of all, we wanted to provide research that was unbiased in a way that Wall Street's never can be. We do not have multimillion-dollar investment banking deals that cause us to shade, or completely hide, our true opinions about companies. Our responsibility is not to generate brokerage activity; it is to provide our readers with the best information about companies and industries they had not previously considered. So when we highlight such companies as AAON(Nasdaq: AAON), IMS Health(NYSE: RX), Swisscom(NYSE: SCM), and W.P. Stewart(NYSE: WPL) you can know that we are doing so with the sole intent of giving you potential investment ideas.

Second, Select's journal form provides a way for us to emphasize accountability to our writers for their opinions. We want you to see what we are talking about now, as well as what we have talked about in the past. If we have a good record at uncovering promising biotech companies, you should know about it. If we wax rhapsodic about the promise of goats being marketed over the Internet, you should be able to take our next similar "bright idea" with the grain of salt that is sorely needed in investing.

This "grain of salt" is something we hold dear at The Motley Fool. We have long thought that much of the stuff parading as "research" for individual investors is of dubious quality, wrought with conflict, and frankly focusing on short-term events, charts, and unknowable short-term wiggles and waggles. In short, with most research, companies are only as good as their next quarters' guidance, or more cynically, their potential to generate banking revenues for the analyst's employer. It is high time that people recognize the fact that following analysts' opinions could be hazardous to your wealth. They're not working for you.

We are. So when the world was selling off some great companies in the wake of the terrorist attacks in September, we were focusing on good long-term opportunities -- great companies that could be had at great prices. This led us to uncover a gem like United Technologies(NYSE: UTX), which has since gained more than 40%. We have dug deep to focus on small-cap companies such as Philadelphia Consolidated Companies(Nasdaq: PHLY), a niche insurance specialist that has since gained more than 70%.

And when companies we feature go the other way, we'll tell you whether we think that there is a new business wrinkle to be concerned about, or whether the market is simply overreacting to short-term issues. One such company, Bristol-Myers Squibb(NYSE: BMY) has gone through some significant questions about its business as of late. But is this giant pharmaceutical company really permanently impaired, like the market seems to think? We think not.

We should not point to our recent successes as a validation of our "proof of concept," though we are of course pleased when companies we profile do well. Select is a product suited for people who want to find value in equities. We do not pretend to have some magic insight into determining what companies are due to go up in short order. That so many newsletters and stock-picking services purport to do just this is a sign of just how much people want to believe that the stock market's machinations are somehow interpretable. A recent survey by Timer Digest, which tracks the performance of market-timing newsletters,strongly suggests otherwise: Of the 111 market-timing publications it monitors, exactly zero beat the returns of the S&P 500 from December 31, 1990 to December 31, 2000.

We're different. We're not suggesting companies based on what we think the market will do. Select's commission is to identify the characteristics of companies we consider to be great, and to provide a solid analytical base for our readers to begin their own research processes.

In fact, a brief survey of Select writers tells me that most of the ideas of which we are most proud from the last year have yet to go up. These are companies that still provide, in our mind, excellent investment prospects. We don't worry so much about when; we place much more import on if.

To the thousands of readers who are currently subscribed to Select, we'd like to thank you for giving us a try. We hope that the value of the ideas that we have generated for you far outstrip the cost of its subscription.

If you haven't subscribed to it, we hope you'll check out Select. And to give you some extra incentive, we've put together a review of five companies that we have analyzed over the last year -- the five that we consider to be the best bargains at this point. For a limited time, this piece of research is free with a new or renewed subscription to Select!

Fool on!

Bill Mann
Senior Editor, Investing
The Motley Fool