You may not associate Honeywell International (NASDAQ:HON) with aerospace, but that industry is precisely what's stopping the industrials conglomerate from growing full potential. The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, is largely to blame for the airline industry's woes, but Honeywell's other segments are struggling as well, and the company just projected big drops in full-year sales and earnings.

But with Honeywell actively pursuing acquisition and partnership opportunities in this downturn to lay a stronger foundation for the future and the stock making a comeback in the Dow Jones Industrial Average index, should you ignore the company's current struggles and buy the stock while there's still time?

A mixed quarter

Honeywell shares have bounced nearly 60% from their March lows, driven partly by enthusiasm about the company's recent growth moves. But before I get to what they are, let's check how Honeywell fared in its latest quarter.

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Honeywell's third-quarter organic sales slipped 14% year over year, driven by a 25% drop in sales from its aerospace segment as demand for commercial equipment remained muted. The segment manufactures a wide range of products, software, and services, ranging from propulsion engines, wheels, and power systems to navigation and radar systems and also serves the U.S. Department of Defense. Aerospace contributed nearly 38% to Honeywell's total sales in 2019.

Here's how Honeywell's other segments fared in Q3:

  • Honeywell building technologies: Sales dropped 8%.
  • Performance materials and technologies: Sales slipped 16%.
  • Safety and productivity solutions (SPS): Sales climbed 8%.

SPS growth can be credited to Honeywell's innovation in COVID-19 times. For example, the company rapidly ramped up production of personal protective equipment (PPE), orders for which jumped 150% in Q3 and backlog hit a record high. Sales from Honeywell Intelligrated, the company's automation and robotics arm, also grew by double digits during the quarter.

Honeywell expects the momentum in SPS to continue into 2021. In fact, management expects organic growth in all four segments, and hopes to supplement that with growth opportunities. Honeywell has the financial clout, and that's something that's caught the market's attention of late.

Honeywell's growth key: It's technology, not industrial

Honeywell ended Q3 with nearly $15 billion in cash and short-term investments, a sum management intends to spend on opportunistic mergers and acquisitions and share repurchases.

Honeywell made two small but meaningful acquisitions in October. First was privately held Rocky Research, a power generation and thermal management systems specialist. This acquisition should expand Honeywell's aerospace portfolio into products like cooling systems which can fit commercial aircraft as well as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones.

UAS, in fact, has been an area of special interest for Honeywell lately. Its second acquisition is proof: Honeywell acquired Ballard Power Systems' UAS unit, which manufactures fuel cell systems to power unmanned aerial vehicles. This comes close on the heels of Honeywell forming a UAS-dedicated business unit.

UAS is a multi-billion dollar market, projected to grow at double-digit compound annual rates in coming years; but that's just one of the growth opportunities for Honeywell. In October, Honeywell also teamed up with Microsoft to expand its Industrial Internet of Things reach and partnered with Vertiv Holdings to create solutions for data centers.

Honeywell projects these four acquisitions and partnerships to generate sales worth $1.2 billion over the next five years. The key point to note here, though, is that each of these moves are technology-driven, which is what should appeal to investors considering Honeywell stock.

HON Dividend Chart

HON Dividend data by YCharts

Honeywell might be known as an industrials conglomerate, but its technological bent gives it a unique edge over others, and that's also where the company's real growth potential lies. I wouldn't be surprised to see more acquisitions on those lines.

Meanwhile, Honeywell increased its dividend for the 11th straight year last quarter and resumed share repurchases, further reflecting management's confidence in the company's growth and commitment to shareholders. Honeywell has a strong dividend history and yields 2.3% currently.

This stock deserves a premium

Honeywell might be projecting 12% to 13% drop in full-year sales, but its long-term growth story remains intact. Automation, robotics, Internet of Things, and UAS are only some of the explosive growth and massive addressable markets for Honeywell.

Right now, management is also aggressively cutting costs, expecting to save $1.5 billion-$1.6 billion in 2020. That should bolster Honeywell's recovery as the economy recovers. With management also targeting dividend growth in line with earnings in the long term, Honeywell is one of the best industrial stocks you could buy and own for decades.

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.