Stocks for the Long Run: Snap-on vs. the S&P 500

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Investing isn't easy. Even Warren Buffett counsels 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 individual stocks have performed against the broad S&P 500. 

Step on up, Snap-on (NYSE: SNA) .                                                      

Snap-on shares have slightly underperformed the S&P 500 over the past quarter-century:

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Since 1987, shares have returned an average of 8.1% a year, compared with 9.7% a year for the S&P (both include dividends). That difference adds up fast. One thousand dollars invested in the S&P in 1987 would be worth $19,200 today. In Snap-on, it'd be worth just $12,150.

Dividends accounted for a lot of those gains. Compounded since 1987, dividends have made up about two-thirds of Snap-on's total returns. For the S&P, dividends account for 39% of total returns.

Now have a look at how Snap-on earnings compare with S&P 500 earnings:

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Some underperformance here, too. Since 1995, Snap-on earnings per share have increased by 5.7% per year, compared with 6% a year for the broader index. 

What's that meant for valuations? Snap-on has traded for an average of 18 times earnings since 1987 -- a bit below the 24 times earnings of the broader S&P 500.

Through it all, shares have been slight laggards over the past quarter-century.   

Of course, the important question is whether that will continue. That's where you come in. Our CAPS community currently ranks Snap-on with a four-star rating (out of five). Care to disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or add Snap-on to My Watchlist.

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