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3 Cheers for 3M

Recent share price gains at diversified industrial and technology giant 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) may be due as much to a happy Mr. Market as to strong first-quarter results, but investors aren't complaining.

First-quarter results assuaged concerns that slowing domestic growth is taking a bite out of the company's ability to grow in the double digits. The first quarter brought modest sales gains, which has been a norm at 3M for some time, and reported earnings jumped 58%. However, the bottom line included a sizeable gain from the sale of the company's branded pharmaceutical business.

Strip out the gain on sale of the pharma segment and the earnings the segment contributed to the bottom line last year, and you're looking at a 14.3% rise in EPS from continuing operations. Management expects earnings of $5.20 to $5.45 for the full year, but that includes the gain on sale. Without the one-time benefit, operating earnings are projected at $4.60 to $4.75.

That's quite a difference, though it will be interesting to see how past results came in when stripping out the European pharma business. Based on the operating guidance, the shares trade at just more than 17 times earnings. That's not an overly expensive multiple, and 3M has a long-term growth track record by coupling a reputation for innovation with a steady pace of smaller acquisitions to boost internal growth.

However, the worries over future growth are valid, as operating cash flow has fallen now for more than three years. Throw in the 7% run in the stock price over the past few days, and the risk/reward trade-off isn't looking as good as it used to. Yet 3M still pays a 2.5% dividend and stacks up well against other Dow Industrial peers with the industrial and consumer business segment.

Consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) has a higher P/E and lower yield, as does Honeywell (NYSE: HON  ) . And while United Technologies (NYSE: UTX  ) has a lower P/E, its yield is also minuscule compared to mighty 3M. However you cut it, these firms will continue to dominate their respective industries for years to come, regardless of near-term concerns.    

For related Foolishness:

3M is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Discover more of the market's best bargains with a free 30-day trial subscription.

Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further.

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