Just a mile from my house stands an enormous refinery run by Corn Products International (NYSE:CPO). We call it the "death star" because it emits a spooky nighttime glow, a lot of steam, and a striking aroma. I used to think it smelled like grits, or popcorn, but now I realize what that smell is. It's money.

The company released impressive 2003 earnings yesterday, including a 45% increase in fourth-quarter earnings per share and 19% growth -- to $2.11 per share -- for the full year. But it gets even better. Backing out one-time gains from 2002, the 2003 operating results come out to 68% Q4 earnings growth and 29% for the year. Annual net sales topped $2 billion for the first time. Not bad for a company that many investors wrote off as old-fashioned decades ago.

Corn Products has been around since the 1900s. It's the kind of old-school stock Monty Burns might have held along with his Amalgamated Spats and the Baltimore Opera Hat Company. The firm operates plants all over the world that produce everything from beverage and baking ingredients to glue and cattle feed. It competes with other, larger yawn-inspiring companies like Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM) and privately held Cargill.

Eyelids getting heavy yet? That just proves that this is exactly the kind of boring, but profitable, company that investors often overlook -- the same kind of investments Mathew Emmert looks for in Motley Fool Income Investor. But keep at least one eye peeled. Corn Products increased cash from operations by 15% this year to $236 million, and used much of it to pay down debt. Its South American units ramped up sales and operating income by 23% and 43% despite abysmal economic conditions in places like Argentina.

Analysts expect a 12% gain for 2004. Near its 52-week high of $36.25 and a P/E of 16, the stock may not be a screaming bargain, but it's cheaper than ADM. And Corn Products' steady performance and modest dividend yield of 1.4% ought to earn it a spot on investors' watchlists.

Now what?
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Seth Jayson swears he's not the guy mountain biking on the creepy overgrown access roads around the Corn Products plant. The security booth can reach him via email.