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Votes of Confidence

By David Braverman In a volatile market, companies with steady long-term growth in earnings and dividends -- and solid balance sheets -- can be quite appealing.

With that in mind, we built our latest stock screen to search for companies with the highest Standard & Poor's quality rankings of A or A+. Those are companies that they have displayed superior long-term earnings and dividend performance. Our second criteria: Each company must hold at least an A- credit rating from S&P's Ratings Group -- indicating a high degree of financial stability.

As an added kicker, we looked for companies that, through stock-buyback plans, have repurchased enough shares to reduce the total outstanding by at least 1% in the last year. Many investors consider an active buyback plan a sign of management's confidence in a company's prospects.

Our screen turned up the following seven stocks:

Automatic Data Processing (ADP)

Colgate-Palmolive (CL)

Emerson Electric (EMR)

Imperial Oil (IMO)

Jefferson-Pilot (JP)

Merck (MRK)

Pitney Bowes (PBI) Braverman is senior investment officer for Standard & Poor's

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