Foolish Forecast: 3 Cheers for 3M

Meet the artist formerly known as Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing: 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) . On Friday morning, the industrial conglomerate with a serious consumer-market reach will present third-quarter earnings, so the Fool is here to set the stage. You can start by reviewing last quarter's report. It's OK; we'll wait right here.

What Fools say:
Here's how 3M's Motley Fool CAPS scoring rates against some of its peers and competitors:

Market Cap (billions)

CAPS Rating

Bull Ratio

Corning (NYSE:GLW)

$39.0

*****

97%

DuPont (NYSE:DD)

$43.8

***

87%

3M

$63.6

*****

96%

Echelon (NASDAQ:ELON)

$1.1

***

90%

Data taken from Motley Fool CAPS.

Your fellow Fools like 3M for its massive international exposure in these times of flagging dollar exchange values, and for its broad diversification across various industries. "It would be an extremely rare market where MMM falls behind the SP 500," one CAPS All-Star says.

What management says:
After a successful first half of the year, management upped its revenue outlook for the rest of 2007. The new full-year guidance points to sales growth between 7% and 10%. Apply that math to last year's $5.86 billion in third-quarter sales, and you get about $6.27 billion to $6.44 billion in revenue.

What management does:
While gross margins have been slipping lately, the net take has been going the other way. Coupled with a share buyback program and steady sales growth, you get a very nice improvement in earnings per share. Management says it wants to accelerate the top-line growth from here and maintain its quite satisfactory margins.

Margins

3/06

6/06

9/06

12/06

3/07

6/07

Gross

51.0%

50.8%

50.3%

49.5%

49.0%

48.7%

Operating

23.6%

23.1%

22.9%

22.3%

21.8%

22.0%

Net

15.0%

15.3%

15.2%

16.8%

18.6%

18.4%

Y-O-Y Growth

3/06

6/06

9/06

12/06

3/07

6/07

Revenue

6.7%

7.2%

7.3%

8.3%

7.7%

7.9%

Earnings

7.7%

12.6%

12.0%

22.4%

31.9%

28.0%

All data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects trailing-12-month performance for the quarters ended in the named months.

One Fool says:
It's not easy to spot companies more diversified than 3M, with its spidery tendrils reaching across markets such as health care, consumer electronics, office supplies, security systems, transportation, and display systems -- all on a global level. Try General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , or the old, pre-breakup Tyco. That's about it.

As a category, conglomerates are massively loved right now on CAPS -- a four-star average rating ties for the seventh-most appreciated tag, behind luminaries like nickel, GPS gadgets, and Oklahoma City.

In short, 3M stands on a solid platform and looks to the future with well-placed confidence. Expect good things from Minnesota -- come hell, high water, or Friday morning.

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