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How Last Year's Picks Have Fared

Our stock picks for 2006 started slowly but then sprang to life.

You could divide 2006's stock market into two parts. Early on, shares of small companies flourished. But starting in mid May, large-company stocks started to outpace their smaller brethren. Many of the blue chips we suggested in Stocks to Own in 2006 (Jan. 2006) also exhibited a split personality.

On average, our picks climbed 6% to November 13, or half the gain of Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. But consider Microsoft's pattern. Trading at $29 in mid November, it climbed 7% from the $27 price in our January 2006 issue. But it got there circuitously, falling first to $21.50 in June, then rebounding 35%. General Electric and UPS exhibited similar patterns, although they essentially broke even for the year. We'd hang on to both of them, as well as to Microsoft. Ditto for machinery maker Ingersoll Rand, which dipped 5%.

Our health-care picks were disappointing. Insurer Aetna and device maker Medtronic lost 11% and 14%, respectively. Both are powerful companies, but perhaps they have been mired in too many controversies to advance vigorously. Our best picks were public-works contractor Granite Construction, up 50%, and American Express, up 18%. Amex is in fine shape, but we're concerned that business may be softening at Granite.

Read about our picks for 2007.