Investors following Eaton (NYSE: ETN) must have had some trepidation about the company's first-quarter earnings. Last week's earningsmisses by bellwethers Alcoa (NYSE: AA) and General Electric (NYSE: GE) served only to increase the probability of a recession and downplay expectations.

Clearly, however, the situation can't be all bleak, as Eaton joined the ranks of the few industrial companies delivering respectable first-quarter numbers. The company hit the high end of its guidance of $1.70 operating earnings per share and bumped its full-year range by a nickel to $7.80 to $8.30 per share.

Company sales grew 12% from the first quarter last year, paced by the electrical and aerospace segments, whose year-over-year gains were greater than 20%. Combined sales from the auto and truck segments were essentially unchanged.

Eaton has reached several tipping points with its faster-growing businesses. The electronics and aeronautics segments now contribute at least 50% of companywide sales and operating profits. Also, the hydraulics segment has a promising new pipeline of products and should make a greater contribution to the company's growth. The languishing auto and truck businesses will continue to dampen the total numbers, but gradually will have less impact. This shift for Eaton was first noted here a year ago by Rich Smith, who said that "flat is good." Now, the norm at Eaton should be that each quarter will be better than the one before it.

Fool contributor Steven Renaldi owns shares of General Electric. The Fool has a disclosure policy.