Emerson Electric's (NYSE: EMR) earnings releases don't simply illuminate the company's own performance. With businesses covering a broad range of industrial operations, Emerson can also provide clues regarding the overall health of the economy.

Emerson's most recent earnings report and investor conference reveal a company that's doing pretty well, but still struggling with a weak economy. Compared to the same quarter last year, sales are up 1% and earnings have risen 10%. However, the picture isn't quite as rosy as those numbers show. Back out acquisition and currency gains, and the sales increase turns in to a 6% drop.

Emerson's earnings can provide a snapshot of how things are going around the world. Asian economies reported the only actual sales increase compared to last year. Next best, with the smallest decline, was the U.S. with a 3% drop. Overall, the sales numbers continue to suggest an economy that's getting less bad, but actual improvement remains hard to find.

Across Emerson's business segments, the strongest area was Climate Technologies -- air conditioning for commercial and residential construction -- with 24% sales growth, including a whopping 67% increase in Asia and a solid 13% increase in U.S. sales.

Emerson expects sales to power up over the next two quarters. The company raised earnings guidance for this fiscal year to $2.40-$2.55 per share, compared with the $2.20-$2.40 range it gave last quarter. The 2010 projection has Emerson trading at more than 19 times this year's earnings, a slight premium to most competitors with similar growth estimates.

Company

2010 P/E

Est. 5-Year Earnings Growth

ABB (NYSE: ABB)

16.1

(2.25%)

Eaton (NYSE: ETN)

15.3

12.30%

General Electric (NYSE: GE)

15.5

12.52%

Rockwell Automation (NYSE: ROK)

19.6

18.24%

Emerson Electric

19.5

12.00%

* Source: Yahoo! Finance, intraday 5/7/2010.

Emerson pays a dividend of about 2.7%, and it has hiked that payout every year for more than 50 years. Half-century-plus runs are hard enough to find in consumer staples companies like Procter & Gamble; they're even more impressive for a cyclical, industrial company such as Emerson.

Emerson is a solid company that has remained profitable and continued an impressive track record of returning cash to investors. It covers a wide range of business operations, and it's wired to go whenever or wherever a recovery switch gets turned on. The dividend is well covered, ensuring that investors get paid while waiting for that recovery. Foolish investors may want to put this on their watch list, in case Mr. Market gives them another chance to get in at a good price.

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ABB is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. Emerson Electric and Procter & Gamble are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Fool contributor Russ Krull owns shares of General Electric. The Fool's disclosure policy powers our publishing process.