You'd be hard-pressed to find a more-neglected $25 billion company. Not General Electric
What Emerson Electric
In the fourth quarter, Emerson's revenues increased 5% year over year to $3.7 billion, driven by a 13% bounce in HVAC sales. The company was also encouraged that revenue grew in four of its five business units.
True, currency gains accounted for the bulk of the 5% sales increase. Also true, underlying sales in North America declined. But the company has seen benefits from an ongoing restructuring -- operating cash flow rebounded 31.4% to $840 million in the quarter, while free cash flow grew 41.6% to $716 million. In addition, returns on capital remain impressive, improving to 12.7% from 12% last year.
Perhaps most interesting about the downturn is that Emerson's free cash flow increased from $1.15 billion in both fiscal 2000 and 2001 to $1.43 billion in 2002, before declining slightly to $1.39 billion in 2003. Over that period, the company cut capital expenditures from $692 million in 2000 to $337 million in 2003.
Looking ahead to 2004, as sales begin to pick up, Emerson looks to prop CapEx back up to between $370 million and $385 million. In addition, the company is poised to make several small acquisitions.
Finally, Emerson bumped its annual dividend for the 48th consecutive year -- from $1.57 per share to $1.60. Emerson Electric doesn't look outrageously cheap at 18 times trailing free cash flow, but it is a quality company with an impressive history, and one that looks poised to rebound with the economy.
Jeff Hwang can be reached at JHwang@fool.com.