Great businesses don't always have highly visible products. For RBC Bearings (NASDAQ:ROLL), the design and production of bearings and components is at the core of its business, yet despite its exposure to the booming aerospace and defense arenas, RBC isn't a name that most commercial airline passengers or military personnel will know well. Nevertheless, the company's products are important for end users in these and other industrial applications.

Coming into Wednesday's fiscal fourth-quarter financial report, RBC Bearings shareholders expected to see a slight drop in sales but a rebound in net income. Investors largely got their wish, and in general, RBC went quietly about its business to produce steady if tepid growth. Let's take a closer look at RBC Bearings to see how it did and whether its future looks bright.

RBC logo.

Image source: RBC Bearings.

RBC Bearings finishes fiscal 2017 on a quiet note

RBC Bearings' fiscal fourth-quarter results maintained the company's track record of stability. Revenue fell slightly from year-ago levels, dropping 1.3% to $160.2 million, and that was a bit worse than the less-than-1% decline that most investors were expecting. However, RBC outpaced expectations on the bottom line, with adjusted net income of $21.6 million up 7% from the fourth quarter of fiscal 2016. That produced adjusted earnings of $0.90 per share, which was $0.01 better than the consensus forecast among those following the stock.

Taking a closer look at RBC Bearings, the company saw trends among its various business segments continue to play out as they have in the recent past. Sales to its industrial business customers climbed 2.6% from year-ago levels, but the aerospace market slumped, with RBC's sales to customers in that area falling 3.2%. Sales of ball bearings rose the most, posting an 11% rise, and gains of just over 2% in the roller bearings segment were also favorable. However, a small decline in the key plain bearings segment weighed on overall performance, and a big drop of more than 8% in the engineered products space pointed to the weakness in the aerospace market.

RBC did a good job of boosting its margins. Adjusted gross margin climbed by more than 2 percentage points to 39.5%, and operating margin rose from 20% in the year-ago period to 21.5% during the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017. Despite stable overhead costs, more favorable costs of goods sold helped bolster RBC's internal efficiency and keep its bottom line moving higher.

What's ahead for RBC Bearings?

CEO Michael Hartnett was pleased with the results that RBC produced. "The ongoing integration of Sargent into our portfolio is allowing us to return to stronger margin levels typical of the RBC Bearings model," Hartnett said, and the CEO also pointed to debt reduction and stock repurchase activity as key long-term components of success.

RBC Bearings is optimistic about its future. In Hartnett's words, "We are well-positioned to capture growing demand in our primary markets," and the cash flow that RBC has generated should help it in those efforts as it seeks to invest internally in its business.

Another sign of future strength came from RBC's backlog figures. The number climbed to $354.1 million, which was up both from year-ago levels and from where it finished the fiscal third quarter. By ensuring that its pipeline of future business remains full, RBC will be better able to manage its workflow and sustain its steady results into the future.

RBC Bearings has rewarded its shareholders with strong returns lately, and the dependability of results like this is one reason why the stock has been attractive. With ongoing good prospects for the business, RBC has the potential to continue lurking under the radar of most investors while still delivering the performance that those in the know want to see.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.