In yesterday's news, weapons-maker General Dynamics (NYSE:GD) managed to grow its sales and earnings by double-digit percentages for the fourth quarter of 2006, and for the full year as well -- yet still disappoint the Street. Big whoop.

While everyone on Wall Street is worrying about the firm's fourth-quarter "earnings miss," they're missing the big story here. Before we get to that, though, here's a brief rundown of how GD did this year:

  • CEO Nicholas Chabraja was vindicated in his year-old commitment to make 2006 "free cash flow from operations... approximate net earnings." Net income for the year came to $1.86 billion in total; minus profits for discontinued operations, the firm earned $1.71 billion from continuing operations. The $1.82 billion in free cash flow was pretty on-target to whichever figure you'd like to use.

  • On a more micro level, the firm's smallest business by revenues, aerospace (including business jets), grew the fastest of its four segments, with revenues rising 20% and operating profits growing 30% year over year. Aerospace also boasted the strongest operating margins, at 14%.

  • The slowest growth came in the marine business, the only unit of the four to not grow in the double digits. Sales were up just 5% year over year -- but operating profits grew 51%.

  • Information technology (IT), which remains GD's biggest business unit, grew 20% thanks to the addition of Anteon. Absent Anteon, though, IT would have been the year's goat, with just 2% organic sales growth.

The best part
With those details out of the way, here's the big news: General Dynamics can read the future. Two years ago, I stared in amazement at the audacity of General Electric (NYSE:GE) and its electrifying prediction that earnings would grow in the double digits not just in 2005, but in 2006 as well. Considering that it's hard for any executive to see clearly how its business will perform more than six months out, GE's prediction seemed pretty audacious. GD's Chabraja, however, just may have won away the audacity trophy with his conference call predictions on 2007 earnings.

Not content to state just a growth rate or a year-end target number, Chabraja actually named his firm's earnings to the penny for each quarter this year. Said he, in the first quarter, GD will earn $1.02, then $1.10 in the second, $1.19 in the third, and $1.29 in the fourth -- for a grand total of $4.60 in fiscal 2007. Pretty exact there, Nick. But beware: Now we're going to hold you to that.

Meanwhile, for all the analysts who crib from the companies they cover in "estimating" what "they" think the companies will earn: Take the rest of the year off. The CEO's done your job for you.

What did we expect out of General D last quarter, and what did it produce? Find out in:

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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above.