One of the BusinessWeek 50's main goals is to capture the dynamic nature of strong growth. That's reflected in how we identify the best of the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. We use 10 performance metrics, starting with sales and earnings growth. We tally both for the most recent 12-month and three-year periods, to reward companies that prosper over time. This year, for the first time, we include long-term earnings prospects. We factor in net profit margins. And finally we account for the market's view, by measuring total shareholder returns for one- and three-year periods.
We weight the results for sales volume, because it's harder for large companies to post impressive revenue- and profit-growth figures. And we factor in the debt-to-capital ratio, to recognize clean balance sheets. That also makes it harder for corporations to qualify with growth that's primarily the result of debt-laden acquisitions.