I Was Wrong About Textron: What Now?

Last month, I spent some time weighing in on whether it would be worth buying shares of Textron (NYSE: TXT  ) near their 52-week-high; after all, having worked at one of its subsidiaries for nearly seven years, I still have a small position in Textron through my old 401(k) plan, so like to keep tabs on my alma mater.

The optimism
In any case, things seemed to be looking up for the struggling industrial conglomerate; Textron had not only nearly finished winding down the dangerous financial assets which had almost proved to be its undoing in 2009, but the company also suggested that its core Bell Helicopter and Cessna businesses would turn in a solid 2013 after relatively strong showings last year.

In fact, when all was said and done last quarter, Textron told investors to expect revenue to increase a modest 6% in 2013, while earnings per share would come in between $2.10 and $2.30 -- relatively in line with its much-improved 2012 earnings of $2.15 per share. Weary investors rejoiced at the perceived stability, and pushed shares of Textron up nearly 30% year to date.

In the end, I decided that, "assuming Textron can keep up its consistent results, then -- especially in today's uncertain economic environment -- I have no reason to believe it's shares won't continue to outperform."

Enter reality
Unfortunately, Textron gave me such a reason after it reported disappointing first-quarter earnings results.

As fellow Fool Brian Pacampara pointed out, shares of Textron plummeted more than 11% during Wednesday's trading after the company said it earned $0.40 per share on $2.86 billion in revenue, falling short of analysts' consensus estimates, which called for earnings per share of $0.45 on $2.89 billion in sales.

Even worse, while I've noted that the company has already told us to expect much of Cessna's revenue growth to come later in the year, it didn't help that management also lowered its earnings guidance this week, and now thinks Textron should earn between $1.90 and $2.10 per share -- or around 9% less than their earlier figures claimed.

Of course, you can't win 'em all -- but who's to say Textron's story is over?

As it stands, the stock still sits slightly higher from where it started in 2013, and at nearly the same levels it stood around this time last year. In addition, shares of Textron are now trading hands at less than 13 times trailing earnings, and under 10 times forward estimates, so it's hard to claim the stock is horrendously overvalued.

Even so, as I also wrote last month, other companies in the defense space look tantalizingly cheap, as well. Defense product extraordinaire Northrup Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) , for one, boasts a trailing P/E of just 8.9(!), though its forward estimates increase the ratio to a still low 9.5. Meanwhile, weapons maker Raytheon currently trades at only 10.1 times both trailing and forward earnings, and cybersecurity whiz SAIC has trailing and forward P/E ratios of 9.1 and 11.7, respectively.

Foolish final thoughts
Curiously enough, notice those lower forward earnings estimates -- hence the higher forward P/E ratios -- seem to be the running theme in this space, lending credence to Textron's claims of "soft" defense spending putting a strain on the company's earnings.

In the end, the services that these companies provide are still largely necessary, and I'm not particularly concerned about their long-term well-being. Despite the weak first quarter, then, I'm leaving my "Outperform" CAPSCall open on shares of Textron, and will keep a close eye on how the rest of its year takes shape.

More expert advice from The Motley Fool
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