Stocks for the Long Run: General Electric vs. the S&P 500

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Investing isn't easy. Even Warren Buffett councils 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 members of the S&P 500 have performed compared with the index itself.

Step on up, General Electric (NYS: GE) .


General Electric shares have modestly outperformed the S&P 500 over the last three decades:

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Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Since 1980, shares returned an average of 13% a year, compared with 11.1% a year for the S&P (both include dividends). That difference adds up fast. One thousand dollars invested in the S&P in 1980 would be worth $29,400 today. In General Electric, it'd be worth $50,400.

Dividends accounted for a lot of that gain. Compounded since 1980, dividends have made up 62.9% of General Electric's total returns. For the S&P, dividends account for 41.5% of total returns.

And now have a look at how General Electric's earnings compare with S&P 500 earnings:

anImage

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Perhaps surprisingly, earnings have underperformed. Since 1995, General Electric's earnings per share have grown by an average of 3% a year, compared with 6% a year for the broader index. Much of that underperformance is due to the deterioration of its financial arm during the credit crisis of 2008.

Still, the company has commanded a premium valuation. General Electric has traded for an average of 26.7 times earnings since 1980, compared with 21.3 times for the S&P.

The company has been an above-average performer historically, but just barely.

The question is whether that can continue. That's where you come in. Our CAPS community currently ranks General Electric with a four-star rating (out of five). Do you disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or add General Electric to My Watchlist.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Follow him on Twitter @TMFHousel. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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