In news that surprised even the most astute investment business insiders, Eaton Vance has been crowned the No. 1 publicly traded stock in the last 25 years. According to FactSet Research Systems, Eaton Vance's annualized return of 32% since 1979 put the company ahead of such Wall Street princes as Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and Wal-Mart. Eaton Vance leadership learned of the milestone during a recent Merrill Lynch conference. "There were big smiles on our faces when we saw that," said Eaton Vance Chairman James Hawkes. "It was one of those Holy Batman' moments."

Investors who purchased $10,000 worth of Eaton Vance stock on Dec. 31, 1979 would have seen it grow to $10.6 million 25 years later, assuming they reinvested all the dividends. Meanwhile, a $10,000 investment in the company's flagship Eaton Vance Tax-Managed Growth Fund, made at year-end 1979, assuming all distributions were reinvested, would have been worth about $209,000 as of Dec. 31, 2004. The fund returned 9.7% in 2004.

Hawkes, who joined Eaton Vance in 1970, attributed the money manager's success to "skill sets that allow us to make progress in environments where equities are in favor, or out of favor, where bond funds are in favor, or out of favor. If you look at many of our competitors, they do well in certain environments, and then they slow down and don't make progress in other environments."

Eaton Vance, which managed $94.3 billion in assets at the end of 2004 versus about $15 billion 10 years ago, has also managed to sidestep the market-timing and late-trading scandals that have tainted many of its competitors. This distinction has allowed it to focus on meeting the goals of the company and its clients, Hawkes noted.

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