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This is important information for any investor-even someone who never ventures into the stock market. ick your poison: Internet bubbles o r currency devaluations. An economy that's growing too fast or headed for a sudden downturn. Though the bulls are still stampeding, the market is increasingly volatile. It's enough to turn even daring investors into more conservative ones, forsaking Wall Street's exotic fare for a diet of more consistently dependable stocks, venerable companies like Walgreen, the Deerfield, Illinois-based purveyor of food and drugs. More...




On the other hand, if your marginal tax rate is low, investing in tax-exempt municipal bonds doesn't really make sense for you. If your marginal tax rate is 31 percent, earning 5 percent interest tax-free is like earning 7.25 percent in a taxable investment. If your marginal rate is only 15 percent, a tax-free 5 percent is worth only as much to you as 5.88 percent in a taxable investment. You might earn more in Treasuries, which are free of state and local taxes-and safer than municipal bonds. What's so special about a company that peddles cookies and aspirin? Regardless of whether the economy is booming, busting, or doing something in between, people get hungry and have headaches. At Walgreen stores, the product keeps moving off the shelves. Businesses that sell things people desire or need no matter how the economy is faring are known as stable-growth companies because they're able to deliver steady profit increases year after year. Although examples exist within many areas of commerce, Wall Street has traditionally defined stable-growth companies as those producing beverages, food, pharmaceuticals, and tobacco-staples that consumers keep buying in good times and bad. And here's another Wall Street tradition: Once a maker of one of these products starts showing dependable earnings growth, its stock often richly rewards investors who hold on for the long term. ick your poison: Internet bubbles o r currency devaluations. An economy that's growing too fast or headed for a sudden downturn. Though the bulls are still stampeding, the market is increasingly volatile. It's enough to turn even daring investors into more conservative ones, forsaking Wall Street's exotic fare for a diet of more consistently dependable stocks, venerable companies like Walgreen, the Deerfield, Illinois-based purveyor of food and drugs.

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More... The 98-year-old retailer has seen its earnings increase in each of the past 24 years. In the past five years, the company's earnings per share have nearly doubled. No wonder investors have flocked to Walgreen, sending its stock up 88 percent last year; during the past decade, shareholders have earned about 30 percent annually. Walgreen's stock traded at 56 times earnings in early February, a multiple 66 percent higher than the average Standard & Poor's 500 stock, which itself carries near-record price-to-earnings ratios. Or if you want to stay invested for income, you might consider a tax-exempt municipal bond fund instead of a taxable corporate bond fund. And there's the rub. In today's market, investors who seek stable-growth companies for their dependability and strong relative performance have to pay a premium for their shares. And when companies with high valuations fail to meet investors' expectations, their share prices can fall fast and hard. Consider what happened to Campbell Soup earlier this year: On January 11 the world's largest soupmaker announced that an unusually warm winter had slowed sales, sending Campbell shares down 13 percent in that day's session.

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Moreover, when Kim measured the return of stable-growth stocks and the broader market in different phases of the economic cycle (recession, recovery, and expansion) during the 26-year time frame of his study, the results were impressive. Stable-growth stocks had higher returns than the 500 largest stocks during periods of recession and expansion. In fact, the only time these stocks trailed the broader market was during times of recovery, when investors chased companies more likely to profit from an expanding economy. And there's the rub. In today's market, investors who seek stable-growth companies for their dependability and strong relative performance have to pay a premium for their shares. And when companies with high valuations fail to meet investors' expectations, their share prices can fall fast and hard. Consider what happened to Campbell Soup earlier this year: On January 11 the world's largest soupmaker announced that an unusually warm winter had slowed sales, sending Campbell shares down 13 percent in that day's session. Why the turnaround in investor attitude? Low unemployment, minimal inflation, solid wage growth, and a friendly stock market all combined last year to fuel consumer spending. Whether that trend will continue is a hotly debated point; indeed, many economists now view the consumer as a wild card. If the stock market fails to shower investors with double-digit gains, Americans might make fewer trips to the mall, dampening economic growth.

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And there's the rub. In today's market, investors who seek stable-growth companies for their dependability and strong relative performance have to pay a premium for their shares. And when companies with high valuations fail to meet investors' expectations, their share prices can fall fast and hard. Consider what happened to Campbell Soup earlier this year: On January 11 the world's largest soupmaker announced that an unusually warm winter had slowed sales, sending Campbell shares down 13 percent in that day's session. If you and your spouse have $98,000 a year in combined income, you may think that you're in the 31 percent federal tax bracket. The reality is more complex: you pay a 31 percent federal income tax only on the last $1,100 you earn. In fact, your marginal tax rate is 31 percent, but most of your income is taxed at 15 percent or 28 percent.

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