A Tool Belt For Investors

Each year since 1997, we have published the BusinessWeek 50, our selection of the top-performing U.S. companies. The ranking is based on a wide array of measures, including growth in revenues, profits, and returns to shareholders. Add it up and our list spotlights companies that have done well on many fronts through the economy's ups and downs.

What's striking about this year's class is the breadth of companies and sectors represented. The standouts include Lowe's (LOW ) and Best Buy (BBY ) in retailing; Wellpoint Health (WLP ), Stryker, and Humana (HUM ) in health care; Intel (INTC ), Dell (MSFT ), and Symantec (SYMC ) in technology; and insurers Progressive (PGR ) and ACE.

As an analytic tool, the BW50 is a useful guide to companies leading their industries as the economy gathers strength. They're pushing ahead with innovative products, creative strategies, and a clear focus on customers. For investors, the list provides a good map for finding future winners among the broad universe of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. But most of all, the BW50 highlights those companies whose winning ways are role models for the rest of Corporate America.

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