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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Dan Burrows, Contributing Writer
| January 16, 2018
A finance professor made a startling discovery about the stock market: Over a 90-year span, 96% of all stocks collectively performed no better than risk-free 1-month Treasury bills. After analyzing the lifetime returns of 25,967 common stocks, Hendrik Bessembinder determined that just 1,092 of those stocks -- or about 4% of the total -- generated all of the $34.8 trillion in wealth created for shareholders by the stock market between July 1926 and December 2016. Even more striking, a mere 50 stocks accounted for well over one-third (39.3%) of that amount.
But before we get to our profiles of the 50 best-performing stocks of all time, many of which are (or were) components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a word of caution. Accurately identifying the precious few “home run” stocks amid the many thousands of underachieving names is extremely difficult. It might be impossible. Your portfolio is more likely to suffer because you guessed wrong and failed to invest in the top long-term winners, says Bessembinder of Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.
A better alternative to trying to find a needle in a haystack? To paraphrase Jack Bogle, the Vanguard founder and pioneer of index investing: Just buy the haystack. “The results reinforce the importance of diversification,” says Bessembinder, “and low-cost index funds are an excellent way to diversify broadly.”
Take a look at the 50 best stocks since 1926.
The 50 stocks are listed in reverse order of the dollar amount of lifetime wealth creation, which includes reinvested dividends. Current stock data as of Jan. 12. Analysts' ratings provided by Zacks. For more details on Bessembinder's study methodology and findings, download a copy of his paper, "Do Stocks Outperform Treasury Bills?"
Ticker symbol: GILD
Lifetime wealth creation: $118.6 billion
Annualized return (February 1992-December 2016): 21.0%
Current share price: $79.02
Current dividend yield: 2.6%
Current analyst ratings: 10 strong buy, 1 buy, 10 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Gilead Sciences made its name developing retroviral drugs to fight HIV, influenza and Hepatitis B and C, and now it's making acquisitions in order to find more bestsellers. Founded three decades ago when the biotechnology sector was still in its infancy, Gilead -- like many biotech stocks -- has given investors a dramatic ride. Shares didn't do much for the first decade or so after the company went public in 1992 until Gilead hit the mark with retroviral drugs, at which point the stock took off. The downside? Shares peaked in 2015 and have lost about a third of their value since. Today’s investors are banking on investments in oncology drugs and splashy acquisitions such as the $11.9 billion deal for Kite Pharma to make up for slowing sales of its retroviral hits.
Ticker symbol: N/A
Lifetime wealth creation: $120.6 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-March 2005): 10.9%
Current share price: N/A
Current dividend yield: N/A
Current analyst ratings: N/A
The Sears we know today is a shell of the 19th and 20th century retail powerhouse that was the Amazon of its time. Founded in 1886 as a mail-order catalog, the original Sears Roebuck allowed rural consumers to buy the same products available to their big-city brethren. The company went public in 1906 and not long afterward began opening a sprawling network of stores. In 1924, the stock was added to the Dow Jones industrial average. Sears thrived for decades, but by the 1990s it had been overtaken by the likes of Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT). The stock was dropped from the Dow in 1999. Not long after, billionaire hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert purchased Kmart out of bankruptcy and then used it to acquire Sears. The merger, which closed in 2005, marked the end of the original Sears Roebuck & Co. and resulted in the new Sears Holdings (SHLD), a stock that has been in sharp decline for a decade running.
Ticker symbol: UNP
Lifetime wealth creation: $122.4 billion
Annualized return (August 1969-December 2016): 13.6%
Current share price: $141.17
Current dividend yield: 1.9%
Current analyst ratings: 8 strong buy, 0 buy, 9 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Union Pacific runs a railroad network that sprawls across 23 states in the West and Midwest, making it one of the largest transport companies in the world. Its lineage goes back to 1862's Union Pacific Railroad, which helped build the first transcontinental railroad. Union Pacific Railroad was an original component of the Dow Jones transportation average, created in 1884. The rail company has evolved over the past century and a half due to a series of mergers with or acquisitions of other railroads. The modern-era Union Pacific was formed in 1969 to manage what had become a spaghetti-like mix of routes. Warren Buffett once held a 2% stake in Union Pacific, but sold it when Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) bought competitor BNSF in 2009. Buffett has always had an affinity for railroads because he believes they form the backbone of the U.S. economy. He likes to say that a bet on railroads is a bet on America.
Ticker symbol: UTX
Lifetime wealth creation: $126.2 billion
Annualized return (May 1929-December 2016): 9.9%
Current share price: $136.58
Current dividend yield: 2.1%
Current analyst ratings: 6 strong buy, 1 buy, 4 hold, 0 sell, 1 strong sell
United Technologies is an industrial conglomerate that makes a huge range of products. Aircraft engines, air conditioners, elevators and technology for the aviation industry are just some of the goods cranked out by its four divisions. The multinational company can trace its corporate roots to 1929, when it was part of United Aircraft and Transport, a Dow component starting in 1930. It became United Aircraft due to a 1934 antitrust breakup. The corporate name changed to United Technologies in 1975 to reflect the diversification of its business beyond aerospace. Over the years the company acquired Carrier Refrigeration and Otis Elevators, among other diverse businesses, though its ownership of Pratt & Whitney and UTC Aerospace Systems ensures that it remains an important defense contractor. The stock is still a Dow component to this day.
Ticker symbol: HPQ
Lifetime wealth creation: $129.3 billion
Annualized return (April 1961-December 2016): 9.9%
Current share price: $22.92
Current dividend yield: 2.5%
Current analyst ratings: 6 strong buy, 2 buy, 5 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
The original Hewlett-Packard, started in 1939, was the granddaddy of Silicon Valley technology firms. The company’s fortunes really took off as home PCs and printers gained in popularity. The stock was added to the Dow in 1997. Two years later the company spun off Agilent Technologies (A) to house products that didn't relate to computers, such as scientific instruments and semiconductors. The beginning of the end for the original Hewlett-Packard started with the ill-fated 2001 acquisition of Compaq to form the world's largest maker of PCs. Soon after, the PC market became saturated. Attempts to restart growth with smartphones and tablets were unsuccessful, losses mounted, and management was forced to lay off tens of thousands of employees. The stock was dropped from the Dow in 2013, and Hewlett-Packard split into two companies, HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), in 2015. HP Inc. carries on the legacy of the original stock, which was first listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1961.
Ticker symbol: V
Lifetime wealth creation: $129.8 billion
Annualized return (April 2008-December 2016): 21.1%
Current share price: $120.09
Current dividend yield: 0.7%
Current analyst ratings: 23 strong buy, 1 buy, 1 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Visa wasn’t even known as Visa when the company got its start in 1958 after Bank of America (BAC) launched its BankAmericard credit card program. But as the card gained popularity abroad, the name was changed in 1976 to Visa because it was easier to pronounce. Today, Visa is the world's largest payments processor outside of China. Despite its short life as a publicly traded company and the ill timing of its IPO – Visa went public in March 2008 during the global financial crisis – the stock has already created nearly $130 billion in wealth for shareholders. Interestingly, shares in the company held up relatively well during the crash of 2007-2009 and bounced back sharply as the market started to recover. Including dividends, Visa's stock has returned 928% since the current bull market began in March 2009. That bests the S&P 500's gains by more than 530 percentage points. Visa’s dividend yield won't wow diehard income investors, but the company has raised its payout every year for eight straight years.
Ticker symbol: CSCO
Lifetime wealth creation: $131.3 billion
Annualized return (March 1990-December 2016): 25.4%
Current share price: $40.87
Current dividend yield: 2.9%
Current analyst ratings: 12 strong buy, 3 buy, 4 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Cisco Systems, founded in 1984 and a publicly traded company since 1990, was one of the premier tech stocks of the dot-com boom. It suffered along with much of the technology sector when the bubble burst in 2000, but it was no Pets.com. Demand for the routers, switches and modems manufactured by Cisco that form the backbone of the Internet helped the company recover quickly. In 2009, Cisco was added to the Dow as stocks were finally emerging from the brutal bear market precipitated by the housing crisis and the global financial meltdown. That said, Cisco shares have been something of a disappointment since the current bull market began. True, shares in Cisco are up 266% since the market bottom of March 2009, including dividends, but the Nasdaq-100 index has gained 600% over the same span. Today, the company is reconfiguring itself to take advantage of the growth of cloud-based computing and the Internet of Things.
Ticker symbol: SLB
Lifetime wealth creation: $134.2 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-December 2016): 7.0%
Current share price: $77.97
Current analyst ratings: 13 strong buy, 2 buy, 10 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Schlumberger is the world's largest oil-field services company. As such, it helps firms that own rights to oil fields to actually find the oil and drill the wells, among other services. The company was founded in 1926 by two brothers from France, and a steady stream of technological innovations and acquisitions have contributed to its rapid growth over the decades. Schlumberger's history largely parallels the spread of the combustion engine and the rise of oil as the king commodity, which helps explain its elite level of wealth creation for shareholders. Lower oil prices have weighed on shares over the past three years -- SLB is up less than 2% against a 40% rise in the S&P 500 -- but oil is nothing if not cyclical. Don't be surprised if this long-time wealth creator bounces back sooner rather than later.
Ticker symbol: AMGN
Lifetime wealth creation: $137.9 billion
Annualized return (July 1983-December 2016): 21.0%
Current share price: $185.04
Current analyst ratings: 6 strong buy, 1 buy, 14 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
The biotech industry has long held allure for investors looking for outsized returns, and Amgen is part of the reason why. The world's largest biopharmaceutical company has created an eye-popping level of wealth for shareholders in its relatively short life. (It was founded in 1980 and went public three years later.) Amgen has delivered such returns by following the pharmaceutical industry playbook of both developing hit drugs on its own and acquiring other companies and their blockbusters. Current best-sellers include Neulasta, which helps prevent infections in chemotherapy patients, and Enbrel, which is primarily used to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. On the M&A front, Amgen has coupled with almost 20 firms since 1994. Shares in the company have more than doubled over the past five years compared with a gain of 89% for the broader market.
Ticker symbol: BA
Lifetime wealth creation: $139.4 billion
Annualized return (October 1934-December 2016): 15.6%
Current share price: $336.21
Current dividend yield: 2%
Current analyst ratings: 9 strong buy, 0 buy, 7 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Boeing, a Dow component since 1987, forms half of the duopoly for large commercial airliners. Only Europe's Airbus competes with it on the same level in making big jets. But Boeing is much more than just commercial aviation. The company is a major defense contractor, manufacturing everything from rockets to satellites to military tilt-rotor aircraft like the Osprey. Boeing's history reaches back a century, but it really came into its own in the post-World War II period with the explosive growth of commercial aviation. Boeing’s shares have been a long-time market-beater, but they've taken off over the past year. Although 2017 returns aren’t included in Bessembinder’s study, the stock price nearly doubled last year -- a remarkable one-year return for such an established blue-chip stock.
Lifetime wealth creation: $142.5 billion
Annualized return (July 1951-June 2000): 19.4%
Warner-Lambert was acquired by Pfizer (PFE) some 17 years ago, but during its half century as an independent publicly traded company, its stock delivered a remarkable performance. Tracing its roots back to the mid-1800s, Warner-Lambert was no stranger to making plenty of big acquisitions of its own over the years. It bought everything from Trident gum to Schick razors, but perhaps its biggest M&A win came with the purchase of Parke-Davis, once the world’s largest drug maker and the discoverer of Lipitor. But while Lipitor represented Warner-Lambert’s pinnacle of success, it also ultimately led to its demise as a standalone company. Management initially partnered with Pfizer to market the cholesterol-lowering drug, but Lipitor proved so popular that Pfizer acquired Warner-Lambert outright in 2000. It proved to be a good decision. Lipitor went on to become the best-selling prescription drug of all time.
Ticker symbol: COP
Lifetime wealth creation: $143.8 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-December 2016): 10.2%
Current share price: $60.05
Current dividend yield: 1.8%
Current analyst ratings: 12 strong buy, 1 buy, 3 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
The world's largest independent oil exploration and production company was formed by the 2002 merger of Conoco and Phillips Petroleum, both of which had long and successful records in the petroleum industry. Conoco, once owned by DuPont, was founded in 1875, and the Phillips story begins in 1917. ConocoPhillips spun off its transportation and refining business in 2012 as Phillips 66 (PSX) to focus solely on exploration, development and production. That's what differentiates it today from major integrated energy companies such as ExxonMobil (XOM), which also transport and refine oil and natural gas. (Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway holds a 16% stake in Phillips 66.) ConocoPhillips is just one of a number of energy companies that lays claim to greatness when it comes to the lifetime wealth creation of its shares.
Ticker symbol: CMCSA
Lifetime wealth creation: $147.0 billion
Annualized return (December 2002-December 2016): 12.4%
Current share price: $42.44
Current dividend yield: 1.5%
Current analyst ratings: 20 strong buy, 1 buy, 1 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
As one of the nation's largest cable TV companies and Internet service providers, Comcast has taken more than its fair share of lumps. After all, everyone hates the cable company, right? Everyone, perhaps, except shareholders. The telecommunications giant began in 1963 as a small cable operator in Tupelo, Miss. The company originally went public in 1972. However, new Comcast stock was issued in 2002 following the merger with AT&T Broadband, so the stunning lifetime returns calculated by Bessembinder were generated over just 14 years. Comcast didn’t stop with AT&T Broadband. Notably, it bought NBCUniversal in 2011 and DreamWorks Animation in 2016, fueling Comcast’s strategy of becoming a producer of premier films and programming. Comcast's stock is up 657% on a price basis since the bull market began in March 2009 compared with a gain of 312% for the S&P 500.
Ticker symbol: BMY
Lifetime wealth creation: $161.9 billion
Annualized return (August 1929-December 2016): 13.2%
Current share price: $62.81
Current analyst ratings: 7 strong buy, 0 buy, 8 hold, 0 sell, 1 strong sell
Add another pharmaceutical maker to the list of the greatest creators of stock market wealth for investors over the 90-year span. The modern-day Bristol-Myers Squibb resulted from the 1989 merger of Bristol-Myers and Squibb, but even before joining forces the two separate companies boasted distinguished business lineages that stretch back into the 19th century. A long track record of successful acquisitions has kept the pipeline primed with big-name drugs over the years. Among the better-known names today are Coumadin, a blood thinner, and Glucophage, for Type 2 diabetes. Shares tumbled in 2016 after one of the company’s key cancer drugs failed a clinical study, but Bristol-Myers Squibb stock rebounded last year.
Lifetime wealth creation: $164.3 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-October 2001): 11.6%
Texaco, originally known as The Texas Co., was a staple of the Dow Jones industrial average throughout most of the 20th century. It was first added to the Dow in 1916, when the average expanded to 20 companies from 12. In 1959, its name officially changed to Texaco. The company remained a Dow component until 1997. Not long after, in 2001, Texaco was acquired by Chevron (CVX). As part of the merger, Texaco service stations were sold to Shell, now part of oil major Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A). It was an anticlimactic end for one of the last independent oil companies. Texaco was founded in 1902 and quickly expanded overseas. By the late 1950s it was the most popular brand of gasoline and one of the earliest sponsors of the nascent television industry. Such was its success that it managed to become a top-50 wealth creator despite ending its run as a standalone company 16 years ago.
Ticker symbol: VZ
Lifetime wealth creation: $165.1 billion
Annualized return (March 1984-December 2016): 11.2%
Current share price: $51.86
Current dividend yield: 4.6%
Verizon has been a Dow stock since 2004, and it’s currently the sole representative of the telecommunications industry. Rival AT&T (T) was dropped from the industrial average in 2015 to make room for Apple (AAPL). Verizon came out of the 1980’s federal break-up of the old AT&T on antitrust grounds. The company was initially known as Bell Atlantic. The name changed to Verizon as part of the 2000 merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE. Today, Verizon is the largest wireless provider in the U.S., and it has expanded aggressively into the content arena with the acquisitions of AOL and Yahoo. Telecom stocks are known more for income than growth, and Verizon has largely stuck to that script. The share price for the most part has held steady over the past five years, but Verizon’s annual dividend has increased every year since 2006. It’s a testament to the ability of dividends to create wealth for shareholders over time.
Lifetime wealth creation: $168.0 billion
Annualized return (September 1934-December 1998): 13.1%
Amoco boasts a prestigious pedigree, tracing its roots back to John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil empire of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In its early days, the company was known as Standard Oil of Indiana. The name eventually changed to Amoco after regulators broke up Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust in 1911. Amoco opened its first service station in 1912 and later moved into oil and gas exploration. When U.K. oil giant BP (BP) acquired Amoco in 1998, the combined companies became the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the U.S. Soon after, Amoco’s ubiquitous service stations were rebranded BP. Interestingly, BP in late 2017 announced plans to reintroduce Amoco service stations in the U.S. because American drivers still connect to the Amoco brand.
Ticker symbol: T
Lifetime wealth creation: $169.5 billion
Annualized return (March 1984-December 2016): 11.9%
Current share price: $36.90
Current dividend yield: 5.5%
Current analyst ratings: 6 strong buy, 1 buy, 11 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
AT&T has a long and winding corporate history that started with Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in 1879. However, for the purposes of Bessembinder’s study, the lifetime wealth creation above represents the performance of shares since 1984. That’s the year AT&T was broken up into seven new regional phone companies, known as Baby Bells, with the original AT&T retaining its long-distance business. Many years and many mergers later, one of those Baby Bells, SBC Communications (formerly Southwestern Bell), acquired the original AT&T in 2005 and adopted the AT&T name. Today, the new AT&T (formerly SBC) remains a big dividend payer and a major player in wireless, Internet and satellite-TV services, with more than $163 billion in annual revenue. The original AT&T was dropped from the Dow in 2004. However, because SBC had been a Dow component since 1999, the new AT&T lived on as a Dow component until 2015, when it was removed from the industrial average to make room for Apple (AAPL).
Ticker symbol: UNH
Lifetime wealth creation: $172.2 billion
Annualized return (November 1984-December 2016): 24.8%
Current share price: $228.64
Current dividend yield: 1.3%
Current analyst ratings: 16 strong buy, 1 buy, 0 hold, 0 sell, 1 strong sell
A string of acquisitions has helped make UnitedHealth Group one of the largest health insurance companies in the world. The company was incorporated under the UnitedHealthcare name in 1977 and went public in 1984. Since then, it hasn't looked back. Along the way it beefed up its businesses by buying or merging with MetraHealth, HealthWise of America and AmeriChoice, among many others. The company's OptumRx subsidiary is one of the largest pharmacy benefits managers in the U.S. It has also been a very good stock for long-term investors. Shares are up 326% over the past five years vs. just 89% for the S&P 500. UnitedHealth Group was added to the Dow in 2012, replacing Kraft Foods.
Ticker symbol: MCD
Lifetime wealth creation: $178.3 billion
Annualized return (August 1966-December 2016): 17.9%
Current share price: $173.57
Current dividend yield: 2.3%
Current analyst ratings: 20 strong buy, 1 buy, 4 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
McDonald's needs no introduction. The world’s biggest burger chain has been a stock market and dietary staple for decades. That's partly because management has a knack for changing with the times. Shares performed poorly in the early 2000s, for example, around the time the low-carb Atkins diet surged in popularity. McDonald's responded by adding more healthy fare to its menu and the stock recovered. To this day, McDonald's continues to focus on healthier items to compete with new chains boasting fresher offerings, but it was the launch of all-day breakfast in 2015 that has given the Golden Arches its latest jolt of life. Over the last three years, shares are up 90% vs. a gain of 40% for the S&P 500. History suggests it's never wise to count out McDonald’s, a public company since 1965 and a Dow component since 1985. Its dividend dates back to 1976 and has gone up every year since.
Ticker symbol: PFE
Lifetime wealth creation: $179.9 billion
Annualized return (February 1944-December 2016): 15.0%
Current share price: $36.54
Current dividend yield: 3.7%
Current analyst ratings: 7 strong buy, 1 buy, 3 hold, 0 sell, 1 strong sell
It should come as no surprise that many of the top-performing stocks since 1926 are components of the Dow, which dates back to 1896. The popular benchmark is made up of 30 of the bluest blue-chip stocks available to investors, and components change infrequently. Pfizer, founded in 1849 and public since 1942, had to wait until 2004 before it was finally added to the industrial average. The pharmaceutical giant earned the honor in large part thanks to its history of selling blockbuster drugs. Among the best known are Lipitor (for cholesterol) and Viagra (for erectile dysfunction). Pfizer also owes its growth to its many successful acquisitions. Since 2000, it has purchased Warner-Lambert, Pharmacia and Wyeth.
Ticker symbol: ABT
Lifetime wealth creation: $181.2 billion
Annualized return (April 1937-December 2016): 13.5%
Current share price: $58.84
Current analyst ratings: 16 strong buy, 2 buy, 3 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Joining the likes of Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb on this list of top-performing stocks is fellow drug maker Abbott Labs. The company has a long and eventful history that dates to its founding in 1888. Abbott first paid a dividend in 1924, and it has raised its payout annual for the last 46 years in a row. The company went public in 1929. Its many decades as a dividend-paying public company have certainly attributed to the extraordinary lifetime returns of its stock. A new era began for Abbott in 2013, when it spun off AbbVie (ABBV) as a standalone maker of branded drugs and therapies. Abbott now focuses on generic drugs, medical devices, nutrition and diagnostic products. Since the spinoff, however, Abbott’s stock has trailed the performance of AbbVie by a wide margin.
Ticker symbol: FB
Annualized return (June 2012-December 2016): 34.5%
Current share price: $179.37
Current analyst ratings: 24 strong buy, 3 buy, 0 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Facebook got off to a rocky start when it went public in May 2012 at $38 a share. Technical glitches marred the initial public offering, and the stock traded below the IPO price for more than a year. Since then, however, it's been nothing but blue skies. Facebook’s share price has gained 370% in its five-plus years as a publicly traded company. The S&P 500 is up 115% on a price basis over the same time frame. The relentless growth of digital advertising bodes well for further gains. As the world’s most popular social media network, advertisers are happy to pay Facebook to reach all those eyeballs. Just how explosive has Facebook's rise been? Consider this: In just four and a half years it has created the same amount of wealth for shareholders that it took Abbott Labs nearly 80 years to create.
Ticker symbol: DIS
Lifetime wealth creation: $192.0 billion
Annualized return (December 1957-December 2016): 16.5%
Current share price: $112.47
Current analyst ratings: 6 strong buy, 1 buy, 8 hold, 0 sell, 1 strong sell
Disney began as a cartoon studio in 1923, and Mickey Mouse appeared in his first starring role five years later. The company issued stock for the first time in 1940. In the decades since, Walt Disney expanded into live-action films, theme parks, toys and television. In the last 20 years alone Disney has gobbled up ABC, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm (of “Star Wars” fame). The stock has nearly tripled in value over the last 10 years, but shares face increasing pressure as viewers cut the cable cord and turn to other forms of entertainment. Disney owns cable properties including ESPN and the Disney Channel. But Disney, a Dow component since 1991, has adapted to a changing media landscape before and recently inked a deal to acquire much of 21st Century Fox (FOXA). So don’t be too quick to write off this longtime great stock.
Ticker symbol: MMM
Lifetime wealth creation: $200.4 billion
Annualized return (February 1946-December 2016): 13.7%
Current share price: $244.47
Current analyst ratings: 4 strong buy, 0 buy, 6 hold, 0 sell, 2 strong sell
Perhaps best known for Scotch tape and Post-It notes, it’s easy to forget that one of the three M’s in 3M stands for mining. (The other two M’s stand for Minnesota and manufacturing, as in Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co.) The company began in 1902 as a small-time outfit in search of the mineral corundum. The mining venture didn’t pan out, but the failure did force the company to innovate and branch out. It hasn’t stopped since. Today, 3M makes 60,000 products, with one-third of sales coming from products invented in the last five years. The company’s legacy of success earned it a spot in the Dow in 1976. Shareholders have happily gone along for the ride. 3M's dividend dates back a century and has increased annually for 59 consecutive years.
Lifetime wealth creation: $202.5 billion
Annualized return (January 1927-November 1999): 11.5%
For the purposes of Bessembinder’s study, returns for the original Mobil Corp. stopped in 1999, when Mobil merged with Exxon to form today’s energy powerhouse ExxonMobil (XOM). That fact makes the lifetime performance of Mobil stock (original ticker symbol “MOB”) all the more impressive considering it missed out on the current bull market, one of the longest in U.S. history. Even prior to the merger, Mobil was among the largest oil companies in the nation, tracing its lineage back to Standard Oil of New York. As for the wisdom of its deal with Exxon almost two decade ago, keep reading to learn where ExxonMobil lands among the 50 greatest stocks since 1926.
Ticker symbol: ORCL
Lifetime wealth creation: $214.2 billion
Annualized return (April 1986-December 2016): 23.4%
Current share price: $49.51
Current dividend yield: 1.6%
Current analyst ratings: 17 strong buy, 1 buy, 8 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Oracle is one of several technology stocks to crack the top 50, a notable feat considering most Big Tech companies are relatively young compared to the rest of the names on this list. Founded in 1977 and publicly traded since 1986, Oracle got its start as a provider of database management software. As much as any high-tech company of the era, it rode the late-1990s tech bubble to lofty heights -- and then crashed. It’s been a long, slow recovery ever since, driven by a wide portfolio of software aimed at corporate customers. Where Oracle goes from here is less clear. Larry Ellison is still with the company after 40 years, though now in the role of chief technology officer. Management, led by co-CEOs Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, is in the midst of a major transformation, trying to reinvent the company and embrace the rush to cloud-based services.
Ticker symbol: PEP
Lifetime wealth creation: $224.6 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-December 2016): 12.6%
Current share price: $117.38
Current dividend yield: 2.8%
Current analyst ratings: 7 strong buy, 1 buy, 5 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Pepsi, the cola drink, was created in the late 19th century by a North Carolina pharmacist. Pepsi, the modern-day company, was created in 1965 by the merger of Pepsi-Cola and Frito-Lay to form PepsiCo. (Incidentally, Pepsi stock dates back to 1919 via a predecessor company, candy maker Loft Inc., which Pepsi merged with in 1941.) The natural combination of carbonated beverages and salty snacks proved to be a winner for decades, with PepsiCo increasing its dividend every year for 46 straight years. Today, however, PepsiCo is working against a slide in soda sales. Like the rest of the industry, it has responded by expanding its offerings of non-carbonated beverages. It sells Gatorade sports drinks, Tropicana juices and Aquafina water, among other brands. One advantage Pepsi has over rival Coca-Cola (KO) is the Frito-Lay side of the business, as demand for salty snacks remains solid.
Ticker symbol: HD
Lifetime wealth creation: $230.7 billion
Annualized return (October 1981-December 2016): 27.6%
Current share price: $196.42
Current analyst ratings: 16 strong buy, 3 buy, 5 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Home Depot has been a publicly traded company since 1981. It was included in the S&P 500 index in 1988 and added to the Dow in 1999. Yet, shares in the nation's largest home-improvement chain have generated a big chunk of their gains just in the last six years. The collapse of the housing market that precipitated the Great Recession of the late 2000s was a painful period for Home Depot. It's resurgence since on the back of low mortgage rates – coupled with a shortage of new housing, which has prompted homeowners to stay put and renovate – has remade its fortunes of late. Shares in Home Depot are up 350% in the last five years alone. After notching an all-time high in early 2018, it remains to be seen how much upside is left, at least in the short term.
Ticker symbol: JPM
Lifetime wealth creation: $238.1 billion
Annualized return (April 1969-December 2016): 10%
Current share price: $112.67
Current analyst ratings: 8 strong buy, 0 buy, 11 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
JPMorgan Chase traces its roots all the way back to 1799, when The Manhattan Company was chartered to supply clean water to New York City. It’s come a long way since. Today’s JPMorgan Chase is a sprawling multinational financial powerhouse that ranks as the nation's largest bank by assets. As a result of decades’ worth of mergers and acquisitions, it boasts more than 1,200 predecessor institutions including Chase Manhattan Bank, Bank One, Manufacturers Hanover Trust, Chemical Bank and Bear Stearns, just to name a few. Then known as J.P. Morgan & Co., the stock was added to the Dow in 1991 to reflect not only its place of prominence in the financial industry but its prominence in the American business landscape. The company name changed to JPMorgan Chase in 2000 after J.P. Morgan & Co. merged with Chase Manhattan.
Ticker symbol: INTC
Lifetime wealth creation: $259.3 billion
Annualized return (January 1973-December 2016): 17.7%
Current share price: $43.24
Current analyst ratings: 14 strong buy, 2 buy, 6 hold, 1 sell, 2 strong sell
Intel, founded in 1968, is an old-timer among technology companies, and the semiconductor manufacturer’s longevity has paid off handsomely for shareholders. Its early start positioned the company to run away with the market for the chips that serve as a computer’s brain. Intel had close to 100% market share in central processing units for personal computers at one point. It still has 80% today. But PC sales are like a slowly melting iceberg. Softening the blow, Intel remains the biggest player in making CPUs for back-end servers, which are very much in demand in order to power the rapid shift to cloud-based computing. What's troubling is that Intel missed opportunities to make chips for mobile devices, which is where much of future growth lies. The tech stock was added to the Dow in 1999, near the height of the dot-com boom.
Ticker symbol: WFC
Lifetime wealth creation: $261.3 billion
Annualized return (January 1963-December 2016): 13.3%
Current share price: $62.55
Current analyst ratings: 10 strong buy, 1 buy, 11 hold, 0 sell, 3 strong sell
Wells Fargo has been in the banking business for a long time – make that a very long time. The company was founded in 1852, and even today its name is synonymous with the iconic six-horse stagecoach of the 19th century American West. Warren Buffett's history with Wells Fargo goes way back, too. His holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, first started buying shares of the bank in 1989. Today, Berkshire is Wells Fargo's largest shareholder with a nearly 10% stake worth more than $29 billion. Like most of Buffett’s moves, this investment has worked out pretty well over the long haul. Wells Fargo's stock crashed hard during last decade’s financial crisis but has since gone on to rise six-fold despite a fake-accounts scandal that cost the CEO his job.
Ticker symbol: MRK
Lifetime wealth creation: $286.7 billion
Annualized return (June 1946-December 2016): 13.8%
Current share price: $58.66
Current dividend yield: 3.3%
Current analyst ratings: 8 strong buy, 0 buy, 7 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Merck is the top pure-play drug maker on this list with lifetime wealth creation between 1946 and 2016 totaling well over a quarter-trillion dollars. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Merck’s corporate pedigree. The company was established in 1891, and the stock has been a component of the Dow since 1979. The Merck family’s involvement in the pharmaceutical business dates back to 17th century Germany. The 21st century has been less kind, however. The stock price, adjusted for splits and dividends, remains well below its 2000 peak near $95 a share. In the past 17 years, Merck has experienced plenty of ups and downs, from the Vioxx recall in 2004 to its megamerger with Schering-Plough in 2009. With nearly $40 billion in annual sales, Merck remains a formidable player in the global drug business. Whether the stock can regain its former glory remains to be seen.
Lifetime wealth creation: $297.2 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-November 2005): 7.8%
Confused by AT&T’s second appearance on this list? We sympathize. For the purposes of Bessembinder’s study, though, AT&T Corp. shares represent the original stock that dates back more than a century and that ceased to exist once SBC Communications (formerly Southwestern Bell) acquired AT&T and adopted the AT&T name in 2005. The new AT&T Inc. stock that exists today is, in effect, a legacy of the old SBC stock that was born from the 1984 breakup of the original AT&T. Got it? The original AT&T Corp. was a classic example of a widows-and-orphans stock. It paid generous dividends and carried low risk; in other words, it was an ideal investment for those who needed income and could ill afford to lose principal. AT&T Corp. shares served widows, orphans and many others admirably for generations. Then known as the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, the stock first joined the Dow in 1916. It was dropped from the industrial average in 1928, added back in 1939, and dropped again in 2004. Adding to the confusion, the new AT&T Inc. shares graced the Dow from 2005 until 2015 because SBC (renamed AT&T after the 2005 merger, remember?) had been a Dow component since 1999.
Lifetime wealth creation: $308.0 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-December 2016): 10.6%
The DuPont that created more than $300 billion in wealth for its shareholders since 1926 isn't the same company that exists today. That’s because DuPont merged with Dow Chemical in August 2017 to form a new mega-company called DowDuPont (DWDP). DuPont’s familiar "DD" ticker symbol was retired upon completion of the merger. It's been a long road to get to this point. The chemicals giant got its start more than 200 years ago when E.I. du Pont bought land in Delaware to set up powder mills. As the company grew and gained prominence, it was briefly added to Dow Jones industrial average in 1924 but dropped a year later. DuPont was added back to the Dow in 1935, where it remained for more than 80 years. The newly formed DowDuPont takes the place of the old DuPont in the Dow.
Ticker symbol: KO
Lifetime wealth creation: $326.1 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-December 2016): 13.1%
Current share price: $46.15
Current dividend yield: 3.2%
Current analyst ratings: 6 strong buy, 0 buy, 9 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Coca-Cola (the drink) was invented in 1886, a decade before the creation of the Dow. Coca-Cola (the stock) made a brief appearance as a component of the industrial average in the 1930s. Shares were added back to the Dow in 1987, and they’ve remained a stalwart member ever since. Like PepsiCo, Coca-Cola (the company) is adding everything from bottled water to fruit juices to sports drinks to its product lineup to make up for slowing soda sales. Unlike PepsiCo, Coca-Cola doesn’t have the equivalent of Pepsi’s Frito-Lay snack business to offset slumping soda sales. Over the past five years, shares in Coca-Cola are up just 24% versus a 64% gain for PepsiCo. At least the company's commitment to its dividend should be a source of comfort to income investors. Coca-Cola has paid a quarterly dividend since 1920, and that cash payout has increased annually for 55 straight years.
Ticker symbol: AMZN
Lifetime wealth creation: $335.1 billion
Annualized return (June 1997-December 2016): 37.4%
Current share price: $1,305.20
Current analyst ratings: 30 strong buy, 4 buy, 2 hold, 0 sell, 1 strong sell
Amazon.com, which began life as a modest website for book buyers, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary as a publicly traded company. It's been a heck of a ride for shareholders since the 1997 market debut. The stock’s 37.4% annualized return is by far the highest on this list. The performance is all the more remarkable considering most of the best stocks of all time have goosed their returns by paying out generous dividends for decades. The current bull market has been especially kind to Amazon investors, with the share price experiencing a 21-fold increase since March 2009. Amazingly, Amazon's best days may still lie ahead. In additional to evolving into the nation’s largest e-commerce company, Amazon is also a leader in cloud computing. Its recent acquisition of Whole Foods is threatening to disrupt the grocery business, and package delivery by drones could become reality in the not-too-distant future.
Ticker symbol: PG
Lifetime wealth creation: $355.0 billion
Annualized return (September 1929-December 2016): 10.5%
Current share price: $89.61
Current dividend yield: 3.1%
Current analyst ratings: 6 strong buy, 1 buy, 6 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
When it comes to income investing, Procter & Gamble is synonymous with reliability. The company has paid shareholders a dividend since 1891 and has raised its dividend annually for 61 years in a row. P&G’s inclusion in the Dow dates back to 1932. Few stocks are as venerable and dependable. P&G's products are also known for reliability. The company owns some of the best-known brands in the business including Charmin toilet paper, Crest toothpaste, Tide laundry detergent, Pampers diapers and Gillette razors. Despite selling consumer staples that are supposed to be less sensitive to the ups and downs of the economy, P&G is sensitive to competition. The growing popularity of discount retailers stocking cheaper store brands has been particularly challenging. Look to the stock price for proof: Shares in P&G have gained 29% in the last five years versus an 89% gain for the S&P 500.
Ticker symbol: BRK.B
Lifetime wealth creation: $355.9 billion
Annualized return (November 1976-December 2016): 22.6%
Current share price: $210.16
Current analyst ratings: 3 strong buy, 0 buy, 1 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
It should come as no surprise that the greatest value investor of all time would be behind one of the best stocks of all time. Warren Buffett took control of Berkshire Hathaway, a struggling textile manufacturer, in the early 1960s. As it quickly became clear that U.S. textile manufacturing was in decline, Buffett decided to shift gears. By the late 1960s Buffett had already diversified into banking, insurance and newspaper publishing. He never looked back. Berkshire is now a holding company comprised of dozens of diverse businesses selling everything from underwear (Fruit of the Loom) to insurance policies (Geico). Berkshire has also been a vehicle for Buffett to invest in stocks, which he has done shrewdly and successfully. At 87 years old, Buffett has given no indication when he will retire. Berkshire shareholders aren’t complaining.
Ticker symbol: GOOGL
Lifetime wealth creation: $365.3 billion
Annualized return (September 2004-December 2016): 24.9%
Current share price: $1,130.65
Current analyst ratings: 22 strong buy, 4 buy, 4 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Alphabet has certainly made the most of its relatively short time as a publicly traded company. Shares of what was then known as Google – the corporate name was changed to Alphabet in 2015 – were initially offered to the public just over 13 years ago, and by the end of the first trading day in 2004 the company was worth $27 billion. Today, Alphabet has a market value approaching $800 billion. The Google search engine is Alphabet's most important business, but not its only one, thus the corporate name change. Alphabet is also home to self-driving car startup Waymo; Nest Labs, a developer of gadgets for the Internet of Things; and X, which describes itself as a “moonshot factory” trying to invent technologies that will make the world a radically better place.
Ticker symbol: WMT
Lifetime wealth creation: $368.2 billion
Annualized return (December 1972-December 2016): 18.4%
Current share price: $100.87
Current analyst ratings: 11 strong buy, 0 buy, 12 hold, 0 sell, 1 strong sell
It stands to reason that the world's largest retailer happens to have one of the best-performing stocks over the long haul. But it's been a long road to greatness. At the close of its first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange in 1972, Wal-Mart Stores was worth 4 cents a share, adjusted for splits and dividends. Today it trades for $100 a share. From humble beginnings as a single discount store, Wal-Mart now operates more than 11,600 retail locations around the globe and employs 2.3 million workers. The emergence of Amazon, in particular, as a competitor has prompted Wal-Mart to invest heavily in its e-commerce business, and the early returns from these efforts look promising. In February, Wal-Mart is dropping “Stores” from its corporate name and rebranding itself Walmart Inc. in a bid to move its image beyond its bricks-and-mortar origins. A component of the Dow since 1997, Wal-Mart has increased its dividend every year since 1974.
Ticker symbol: CVX
Lifetime wealth creation: $390.4 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-December 2016): 11.0%
Current share price: $133.60
Current analyst ratings: 9 strong buy, 1 buy, 6 hold, 0 sell, 2 strong sell
Chevron is yet another member of the Dow delivering a disproportionate share of the stock market’s wealth creation since 1926. It's also been a reliable deliverer of dividend income. With 30 consecutive years of annual growth in its cash payouts to shareholders, Chevron's track record instills confidence that the dividend will continue to rise well into the future. Chevron’s origins as a company date back to the 19th century and run through John D. Rockefeller's legendary oil empire. Chevron operated for decades as Standard Oil of California, though the Chevron brand was used on products as far back as the 1930s. The corporate name didn’t officially change to Chevron Corp. until 2005. (Immediately prior to that the company was known as ChevronTexaco in recognition of its 2001 merger with Texaco.) Chevron, under its various names, was a component of the Dow from 1930 to 1999, and then again from 2008 to the present.
Lifetime wealth creation: $425.3 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-June 2009): 5.0%
General Motors was a titan of industry in 20th century America. The auto maker’s stock first joined the Dow in 1915. It was dropped from the industrial average a year later before being added back in 1925. It remained a component of the Dow until GM was forced into bankruptcy in 2009. Prior to its Chapter 11 filing and delisting from the New York Stock Exchange, the shares created an impressive amount of wealth, paying out over $64 billion in dividends to its shareholders. “GM common stock was one of the most successful stocks in terms of lifetime wealth creation for shareholders in aggregate, despite its ignoble ending,” says Bessembinder. Although the original GM stock was one of the great winners of the last century, its recent fortunes haven't been as bright. Shares in the new GM (GM) are up just 34% since the 2010 initial public offering. The S&P 500 index has more than doubled over the same span.
Ticker symbol: JNJ
Lifetime wealth creation: $426.2 billion
Annualized return (October 1944-December 2016): 15.5%
Current share price: $145.76
Current analyst ratings: 9 strong buy, 2 buy, 6 hold, 0 sell, 2 strong sell
Johnson & Johnson operates in several different areas of health care including pharmaceutical products and medical devices. The company is best known, however, for its over-the-counter consumer brands including Listerine mouthwash, Tylenol pain reliever and Johnson’s Baby shampoo. J&J has been at the health-care game for a very long time. Founded in 1886 by three brothers, the company created the first commercial first aid kits and it was the first to mass-produce dental floss – all before 1900. Its iconic Band-Aid bandages hit the market in 1921. Somewhat surprisingly, J&J wasn’t added to the Dow until 1997, even though shares had been publicly traded since 1944. The ever-rising dividend, along with the popularity of its products, eventually made the stock too conspicuous to ignore. J&J has increased the amount of its annual cash payout to shareholders every year since 1963.
Ticker symbol: MO
Lifetime wealth creation: $470.2 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-December 2016): 17.7%
Current share price: $69.61
Current dividend yield: 3.8%
Current analyst ratings: 8 strong buy, 0 buy, 4 hold, 0 sell, 0 strong sell
Altria’s origins can be traced back to a 19th century tobacco shop in London. Today, the company’s operating businesses continue to focus on tobacco including cigarettes (Philip Morris USA), smokeless tobacco (U.S. Smokeless Tobacco) and cigars (John Middleton). Altria also owns St. Michelle Wine Estates, a major wine producer. The company is best known for its iconic Marlboro brand of cigarettes, but at one time or another Altria and its predecessors had a hand in other famous names including Miller Brewing and Kraft Foods. The stock originally joined the Dow in 1985, when the company was called Philip Morris Cos. The name changed to Altria in 2003, and the stock was replaced in the Dow in 2008. Philip Morris International (PMI) is a separate publicly traded company that was spun off from Altria in 2008 to sell cigarettes outside the U.S.
Ticker symbol: IBM
Lifetime wealth creation: $520.2 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-December 2016): 13.8%
Current share price: $163.14
Current analyst ratings: 3 strong buy, 2 buy, 11 hold, 0 sell, 3 strong sell
Think of IBM as the granddaddy of tech stocks. The company, which began operating under its current moniker in 1924, was originally included in the Dow from 1932 to 1939. It was added back to the industrial average in 1979 and remains a component to this day. In many ways, IBM's history is a history of 20th century technological progress. As for the current century, it's a tougher call. IBM produces computer hardware and software for businesses. Consulting is another important area of operation. However, cloud-based services appear to be the future, and IBM has no shortage of competition. Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Oracle and Cisco Systems are some of the well-known tech companies jostling for space. Warren Buffett read IBM’s annual reports for decades before finally taking a stake in 2011. It’s looking more and more like he made a rare bad call. Buffett dumped more than half his stake in 2017, still leaving Berkshire with some 37 million shares of IBM.
Ticker symbol: GE
Lifetime wealth creation: $608.1 billion
Annualized return (July 1926-December 2016): 10.7%
Current share price: $18.76
Current analyst ratings: 4 strong buy, 1 buy, 4 hold, 0 sell, 3 strong sell
General Electric holds a special place in the history of the stock market: It’s one of the 12 stocks that made up the original Dow Jones industrial average of 1896. Perhaps even more impressive, GE is still in the Dow today. (It was dropped a couple of times in its early years before being added back for good in 1907.) The company has undergone tremendous change over time. GE’s latest transformation was spawned during last decade’s Great Recession. In response to tightening regulations, management was compelled to sell off the company’s sprawling financial operations, a powerful source of profits. The GE of today is a pure industrial conglomerate, and investors aren’t quite sure what to make of its prospects. The stock has lost 46% of its value over the last 10 years. Warren Buffett, renowned for his patience, finally threw in the towel and sold his remaining stake in GE in 2017.
Ticker symbol: MSFT
Lifetime wealth creation: $629.8 billion
Annualized return (April 1986-December 2016): 25.0%
Current share price: $88.08
Current analyst ratings: 19 strong buy, 1 buy, 4 hold, 1 sell, 1 strong sell
In 1975, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start a computer company with childhood friend Paul Allen. In 1985, the first Windows operating system went on sale. A year later, Microsoft went public at $21 a share (or the equivalent of 6 cents a share once the price is adjusted for stock splits and dividends). The company quickly revolutionized personal computing and created a generation of so-called Microsoft Millionaires. Not long ago, Microsoft's glory days looked to be behind it as sales of desktop PCs slipped into a seemingly irreversible decline amid the consumer shift to mobile technology. However, the company is experiencing a renaissance thanks to the move away from licensed software to cloud-based subscription software. Today, Microsoft is a top player in cloud computing and its stock reflects this success. Shares have outperformed the S&P 500 by 20 percentage points over the past 52 weeks. Microsoft joined the Dow in 1999 at the height of the dot-com boom.
Ticker symbol: AAPL
Lifetime wealth creation: $745.7 billion
Annualized return (January 1981-December 2016): 16.3%
Current share price: $175.28
Current dividend yield: 1.4%
Current analyst ratings: 16 strong buy, 5 buy, 6 hold, 0 sell, 2 strong sell
What’s left to say about Apple? Its co-founder, Steve Jobs, is legendary, its gadgets are ubiquitous, and with a current market capitalization of $900 billion it’s on course to become the first $1 trillion company in market history. Investors can thank the iPhone for the eye-popping run-up in the value of the stock in recent years. Before Jobs debuted the revolutionary smartphone in 2007, Apple was a well-regarded maker of pricey personal computers that catered to niche markets. In the 10 years since, more than a billion iPhones have been sold. Shares of Apple have gained a whopping 928% since the gadget's initial release. Jobs died in 2011, but the company he started with Steve Wozniak lives on today. The iPhone 8 and iPhone X, unveiled last September, are the latest iterations of the smartphone. The X starts at a lofty price of $1,000. Adding to Apple’s many accolades was its inclusion in the Dow in 2015, replacing AT&T.
Ticker symbol: XOM
Lifetime wealth creation: $1.0 trillion
Annualized return (July 1926-December 2016): 11.9%
Current share price: $87.52
Current dividend yield: 3.5%
Current analyst ratings: 4 strong buy, 1 buy, 9 hold, 0 sell, 2 strong sell
Speaking of $1 trillion, that’s the staggering amount of wealth created by ExxonMobil between 1926 and 2016, according to the “Do Stocks Outperform Treasury Bills?” research study authored by Bessembinder. No doubt the reliable dividend that Exxon has paid out to shareholders since 1882 has contributed mightily to the energy giant’s remarkable performance. Over the last 35 years alone, amid cycles of oil booms and oil busts, the company has increased its dividend payment at an average annual rate of 6.3%. Like rival Chevron, Exxon has to contend with uncertainty regarding the future of fossil fuels, not to mention the wild swings in oil prices. The stock’s performance reflects that uncertainty. Exxon’s share price is lower today than it was a decade ago. (But, hey, at least the dividend checks kept coming.) Exxon has been part of the Dow ever since the industrial average expanded to 30 companies in 1928. Back then it was known as Standard Oil of New Jersey. The name officially changed to Exxon in 1972.
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