In theory, I know I should love Manpower's (NYSE:MAN) business. What's not to like about a company that can place people in jobs, then take a cut of the money folks get for those jobs? As a former Kelly (NASDAQ:KELYA) temp in a segment of the General Mills universe, I know the advantages that placement services can offer large companies who need pools of qualified workers. As a wage slave, I also knew the annoyance of that long-term employment-service leeching once it attached itself to your paycheck.

That's why, as an investor -- on the other side of that paycheck leeching -- you'd think I'd be very excited about such a beast.

But a closer look at Manpower's full-year and Q4 results might give you a clue as to why I'm content to take a pass. Sure, operating and net margins ticked up toward the targets management has set, and earnings per share blew past street estimates, but flattening revenue growth and a deteriorating gross margin makes me wonder just how great things can get. Europe has been yawn-worthy, and with the recent indications that job-growth there is more in public-sector and less from companies like Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) -- which is in hot water for wanting to button up operations there -- I sure wouldn't bet on a resurgence.

There are a few real growth opportunities, to be sure. "Permanent recruitment" is expanding more quickly than the rest of the biz, which offers better gross margins, and Eastern Europe might provide some special sauce as the economies there catch up to their stodgy western neighbors. But listen to the call and you'll see that most of the earnings growth being discussed is due to come via cost-cutting initiatives. I'm all for that, but I like it to come with steady revenue increases.

My guess is that we won't see much of that unless Manpower whips out the checkbook and grabs some competition, of which there is plenty: Adecco (NYSE:ADO), Kforce (NASDAQ:KFRC), Robert Half (NYSE:RHI), and Labor Ready (NYSE:LRW), to name a few.

If I value this thing as a cash-production machine -- and I don't know how else I would value it -- I have to make some pretty aggressive assumptions just to make the current share price look reasonable. Manpower's had an appetite for its own shares at these levels, but I say investors should step aside and let them eat their own. There are better values out there.

Related Foolishness:

  • See how things went in Q4 and for the FY, by the numbers.
  • How does reality compare to the Foolish Forecast?

Seth Jayson was temporarily responsible for some pretty impressive ice cream operations under the General Mills umbrella. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any firm mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.