Will 2012 Be 3M's Year?

At the beginning of December, industrial giant 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) released its 2012 Outlook Report, which focused on providing more value for investors not only by diversifying its brand portfolio, but also by strengthening its core business of adhesives. These seemingly contradictory strategies mean 3M will have all of its bases covered going into the unsure global climate of 2012.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that
3M is a company known for its innovation. I mean, c'mon, Post-it notes -- need I say more? But that was in the 1970s. The company stagnated for a long while after the huge growth rates of that decade. For the last five years, though, it's implemented new strategies to foster creativity and innovation while still maintaining efficiency. And 2012 will be no different.

3M plans to up the wow factor and diversify with as little risk as possible through "corporate venturing with minority investments." This just means it will make small investments in external companies producing great, innovative products.

What are the benefits of this strategy? 3M will be able to test new markets, technologies, and even business models with minimal risk. This strategically positions it to gradually increase ownership in the company should the venture prove successful, or alternately, provides it with quick and easy exit options should the venture tank.

The future is here
One corporate venture highlighted was the German-based company GTG. Now, 3M|GTG has become the world's leading specialist in digital out-of-home, or DooH -- signage that advertises or delivers content in public spaces. In 2009 the company created a gorgeous $16 million digital billboard for Wynn's (Nasdaq: WYNN  ) $2.7 billion Las Vegas resort. 3M|GTG pitched an idea to Steve Wynn that was so compelling that Wynn made it clear price was not an issue; he had to have the billboard. Now the billboard stands out even in the crowded Las Vegas landscape, helping to drive in customers and generate revenue.

But GTG sees more than glitzy megatrons in its future. It claims that soon the industry will integrate things like social networking, GPS, interactive gaming, and even facial recognition to deliver highly personalized advertising content to individuals. Those changes will change consumers' advertising experiences as we know it, and being in on that change could be fruitful for 3M and its investors.

You can't talk about the future without mentioning mobile
The report also highlights txtr, another German-based company that provides an easy-to-manage cloud library for mobile users to save and organize text documents for mobile devices. Txtr also enables lending text documents between clouds, and has its own e-reader, called the Beagle.

It will be interesting to see how the Beagle stacks up against other e-readers. But since the company's cloud app is available on many devices, including Apple's iPad, txtr should fare well. 3M estimates at least $250 million worth of opportunities within txtr over the next few years, which is definitely promising.

The company's latest investment
For larger, more stable investment opportunities, though, CEO George Buckley isn't afraid to drop the big bucks, using the company's strong cash flow to hunt for bigger acquisition opportunities. Earlier this week, 3M announced its purchase of Avery Dennison's (NYSE: AVY  ) office and consumer products division for $550 million. This acquisition makes perfect sense for 3M, and will blend nicely with brands and products already in its lineup. It's a great move for the company and its investors.

Taking it back to basics
3M's core lies in abrasives, from sandpaper to more heavy-duty industrial types. It sounds pretty boring, but it's actually a $2.3 billion business for 3M with plenty of growth opportunities that the company plans to pursue.

Knowing what you're good at and expanding on that is always a smart strategy. 3M began strengthening its abrasives business in 2007, and has grown it nearly 44% in that time.

In 2011 the company acquired SuperAbrasives powerhouse Winterthur. Winterthur brought precision grinding to the company with things like grinding wheels and precision grinding machines. This acquisition allows 3M to compete in new segments of the abrasives industry, shifting it from being present in only 29% of the abrasives marketplace to 83%.

I think 2012 (and beyond!) looks really promising for 3M. In fact, I'm going to head over to my CAPS page and make a positive CAPScall for the company right now. To read about a different great company that our chief investment officer picked out for explosive growth, check out "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012." It highlights a company that is revolutionizing commerce in Latin America. Simply click here -- it's absolutely free.

Fool contributor Amanda Buchanan owns shares of Apple, but she holds no other position in any company mentioned. Click here to see her holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and 3M. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple and a diagonal call position in 3M. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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