Hyster-Yale Materials Handling (NYSE:HY) has taken what many would see as a boring business and turned it into a moneymaker. Forklifts might not be sexy, but they're essential for supply-chain management for a large portion of the industrial economy, and Hyster-Yale's efforts to keep up with technological advances have been important in keeping the company competitive -- even when weakness in its customer base has held back growth from time to time.

Coming into Tuesday's second-quarter financial report, Hyster-Yale investors wanted to see sizable gains on the earnings front, but even the most optimistic of shareholders was surprised by how well the company did. Let's take a closer look at Hyster-Yale and what its latest results say about its prospects.

Hyster-Yale lift truck in action, and a row of lift trucks with a worker doing repairs.

Image source: Hyster-Yale.

Hyster-Yale lifts its game

Hyster-Yale's second-quarter results were solid. Revenue was up 6% to $685.5 million, easily outpacing the 4% growth rate that most investors were looking to see. Net income nearly doubled to $16.4 million, and that resulted in earnings of $0.99 per share, crushing the consensus forecast for $0.73 per share.

Looking more closely at Hyster-Yale's report, the company's bottom line success was due in part to a one-time tax benefit. However, even taking that into account, adjusted earnings of $0.85 per share would still have been a nice positive surprise for investors.

Hyster-Yale kept doing well from a fundamental perspective. Lift truck shipments rose 5% to 22,200 units, while bookings were extremely strong, jumping by 3,600 units to 25,300. The value of those bookings rose $75 million to a total of $575 million, and that brought worldwide backlog up to $820 million, or 35,300 units. Backlog increases were impressive even on a sequential basis, pointing to a big uptick in growth over the past few months.

As we've seen before, the lift truck segment was essential for Hyster-Yale. Segment net income was up more than 80%, and operating profit jumped by more than half from year-ago levels. Sales climbed the most in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa segment, but gains in the Japan and Asia-Pacific region and in the Americas was also impressive. From a profitability standpoint, nowhere made a bigger contribution to Hyster-Yale's success than its home market, which was the only one in which operating profit climbed for the lift truck business. Sales of higher-priced products and greater volume of parts sales were instrumental in driving the segment forward, but unfavorable material costs in some markets weighed on profits.

As we've seen before, ancillary businesses at Hyster-Yale mostly weighed on performance. At the Bolzoni attachment business, a net loss of $100,000 came from slight revenue gains, while net losses at fuel-cell specialist Nuvera widened to $6.3 million.

Can Hyster-Yale keep moving forward?

Hyster-Yale is optimistic about its future. For the lift truck business, the company wants to be a low-cost provider of forklift equipment, and new products in many key market segments are intended to gain market share. Hyster-Yale expects strong growth in the early part of the year to moderate somewhat, but it still hopes it can boost its own sales even if operating profit comes under pressure from higher overhead expenses and materials costs. The company also wants Bolzoni to see a dramatic improvement in profitability in the near future.

For Nuvera, Hyster-Yale continues to make progress. The realignment of Nuvera's operations continues apace, with shifting responsibilities clarifying the opportunity for the fuel-cell business both within and outside the lift truck context. Planned marketing of battery box replacements could lead to a nice pickup in sales in the third quarter, which will be a welcome departure from the segment's nearly sales-free status in the past. But going forward, Nuvera will phase out of battery box replacement to focus solely on fuel-cell engines, and Hyster-Yale wants the unit to cut its costs to be more competitive in the fuel-cell area.

Hyster-Yale investors didn't have a huge immediate reaction to the news, leaving the stock unchanged in after-hours trading following the announcement. Going forward, Hyster-Yale must prove that it can stay innovative and take advantage of opportunities for growth. So far, though, the fundamental health of Hyster-Yale's core business is impressive and shows signs of building momentum in the near future.

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.