If 3M is going to become more than just a high dividend stock it needs to put its focus back on researching new technologies and creating new products. During the tenures of Jim McNerney and George Buckley organic growth never took hold and the stock was stagnant as a result. But in the short reign of Inge Thulin investors are starting to see some progress on the growth front.
Fourth-quarter organic local currency growth of 4.3% was well above the 2.6% organic growth total for the year. The company has introduced some interesting new products that might excite customers again.
Auto films you want to buy
In March, 3M introduced an automotive security film that is intended to deter smash-and-grab theft. The film is an after market film that can be applied to any window in an automobile and it essentially holds a broken window together, keeping an intruder from entering a car. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau about 1 million vehicles are broken into each year so this is an appealing product to many consumers with cars in high-risk places.
As an added benefit, the new film comes with UV protection that is offered in many of 3M's other auto films. I have this film on my car and it's a great help on warm, sunny days.
It's these high-value-addedd products that 3M needs to continue developing to generate organic growth. Maybe even a little marketing behind superior products wouldn't hurt.
The other notable (and sort of creepy) announcement from 3M recently is a virtual presenter. This isn't a holographic display but it might be the first step in that direction. What 3M has done with the interactive virtual presenter is utilize its rear-projection film and interactive touch screen to create a less intrusive sales experience. Below is a video from South by Southwest, where the product was debuted, to show what the presenter looks like.
The next step is to bring the virtual presenter into car dealerships, eliminating the pushy salesperson from the equation. It's this kind of "wow" product that 3M needs to bring back into its repertoire, even if this one isn't a hit with consumers.
Changing power distribution
Another product I've had my eye on for some time is 3M's aluminum conductor composite reinforced electrical lines. This is a product that allows more electricity to be pumped through its lines than traditional steel cables because it doesn't sag as much as comparable cables.
The product has seen slow adoption in the utility space, which is notoriously slow-moving, but 3M recently won a contract with Southern Company to install the cables over wetlands in Georgia. The installation won't require significant new infrastructure in the area but it will double the line capacity. As the grid continues to be stressed, this product should gain more traction and be another organic growth driver for 3M.
Translating innovation to the bottom line
With organic growth picking up in the fourth quarter and a few interesting product launches during the first quarter, it's time to see more progress on financial statements. Over the next year investors should watch for organic growth in each of its businesses. Consumer and office and display and graphics each had outstanding growth in the fourth quarter --we'll need to see if that continues. Maybe more importantly, the safety, security, and protection and electro and communications businesses need to see improved results after a disappointing fourth quarter.
If 3M can achieve solid organic growth in revenues and profitability on the bottom line, the stock may start trading with a higher earnings multiple than it currently has, which would be a big boost for investors.
Motley Fool contributor Travis Hoium has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends 3M. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.