JBT Corp. (NYSE:JBT), formerly known as John Bean Technologies, has worked hard to implement strategic planning to help it grow in two very different niche businesses. Between its exposure in providing food-related products and systems for the food industry and its business supporting air transportation providers with the equipment they need to operate efficiently at airports, JBT has enjoyed strong growth.

Coming into Monday's fourth-quarter financial report, JBT investors were looking for substantial gains in earnings and revenue driven largely by recent acquisitions. The company largely delivered what was expected of it, and JBT officials were optimistic about what lies ahead for its main business segments. Let's take a closer look at JBT and what its results say about its immediate future.

Elevated lift truck on the tarmac next to a large jet with the cargo compartment open.

Image source: JBT.

How JBT did

JBT's fourth-quarter results finished 2017 on a positive note. Sales climbed 19% to $483.7 million, substantially stronger than the consensus forecast among investors for about $470 million on the top line. Adjusted net income from continuing operations jumped about 40% to $35.6 million, and the resulting adjusted earnings of $1.10 per share topped the $1.08 per share most investors were looking to see.

As we've seen in previous quarters, most of JBT's growth came from acquisitions. About 11 percentage points of the 19% growth rate were due to businesses that JBT has bought in the past year, compared with 6% organic growth and about two percentage points of upward support from favorable foreign exchange movements.

JBT also reported a one-time hit from tax reform. In total, JBT reported a $15.5 million charge, about half of which came from revaluing net deferred tax assets and the other half coming from deemed repatriation of foreign earnings. From here, the company sees tax rates coming in at about 27%, taking partial advantage of lower U.S. corporate tax rates that took effect on Jan. 1.

The key to JBT's success was its cost control measures. Operating margin jumped 2.5 percentage points to 11%, driven largely by only minimal increases in overhead expenses. Gross margin eased higher as well as JBT kept its costs of sales under control.

JBT's FoodTech division generally performed better than the AeroTech counterpart. The food side of the business saw revenue climb by almost a quarter, and segment operating profit was higher by about 40%. At AeroTech, more modest gains of 7.5% on the top line and 13% on segment profit were supportive but not quite as robust. Inbound orders totaled more than $403 million, and backlogs amounted to $625 million, up 12% from where backlogs were at the end of 2016.

CEO Tom Giacomini was happy about how the company finished the year.

"JBT delivered double-digit growth in 2017," Giacomini said, "and performed well against the framework of our three-year Elevate strategy." The CEO also noted how key acquisitions made in 2017 helped drive much of JBT's success during the year.

Can JBT keep thriving?

Looking ahead, JBT remains optimistic. In Giacomini's words, "We have positioned the company for continued strong performance in 2018 and beyond, and are optimistic about our outlook based on robust market demand and further margin improvements."

The company's latest acquisition should help in JBT's efforts. The purchase of German marinating and injection equipment specialist Schroder Maschinenbau should support FoodTech's position in the protein segment, helping it compete more effectively.

JBT's guidance was also favorable. For the first quarter of 2018, the company sees revenue growing 8%, producing earnings of $0.32 to $0.36 per share. For the full year, operating margin expansion of another 1 to 1.25 percentage points should help produce earnings of $3.85 to $4.05 per share, with revenue growth of 10% to 13% coming mostly from organic growth, with two to three percentage points stemming from upward effects of acquisitions.

JBT investors seemed satisfied by the results, and the stock regained lost ground to trade unchanged in after-hours trading following the announcement. With opportunities for growth continuing in 2018, JBT is in a good position to keep enjoying upward momentum in its fundamental business performance in the coming year.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends John Bean Technologies. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.