What happened

Shares of uniform and safety-equipment supplier Cintas Corporation (CTAS 0.35%) rose just under 12% in January, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. The broader market, as measured by the S&P 500 index, was up roughly 8%. That contrasts notably with December, when the S&P fell 9% and Cintas was down 10%. But a big shift took place toward the end of last year, shortly after the company released fiscal second-quarter earnings.

So what

On Dec. 20, Cintas reported that fiscal second-quarter revenue was up 7% year over year. Overall organic sales growth came in at roughly the same figure, with organic growth in the core uniform segment actually increasing 1.7 percentage points between the first and second quarters. Earnings advanced just over 30%. Although that was helped along by the recent U.S. tax law changes, the positive underlying trends here are easy to see.

Two people looking at a computer screen with a stock graph on it

Image source: Getty Images.

Cintas also increased its revenue and earnings guidance for the full year, suggesting that it sees no reason to be worried about the current economic environment. That's a big issue for a cyclical industrial company like Cintas, which is highly dependent on corporate spending. Concern about economic growth was one of the main reasons that investors pushed the stock market, and Cintas, lower in December.

However, the mood on Wall Street started to shift in late December, and the more upbeat view of the future lasted throughout January; that underpinned the January advance of both the S&P 500 and Cintas. However, if you track from Dec. 20 through Jan. 31, Cintas' stock advanced nearly 18% while the market gained around 9%. Cintas' January outperformance alone doesn't fully capture how well the stock has done since it reported earnings. Investors' moods have brightened, for sure, but Cintas has clearly benefited more from its own increasingly positive view of the future.

Check out the latest Cintas earnings call transcript.

Now what

Cintas stock had a great month in January; it was even better if you go back to its fiscal second-quarter earnings release on Dec. 20. The company's improved outlook for fiscal 2019 is a key factor, as investors were clearly pleased to hear that management didn't see any material economic headwinds on the horizon that might derail the company's growth. That said, Cintas is a cyclical industrial company, and the current U.S. expansion is getting a bit extended. If you own Cintas, don't expect the good times to last forever.