You know you're in trouble when your company leads off its earnings release with a disclaimer. Unfortunately for Textron (NYSE: TXT) shareholders, that's just what their company did this morning. Management couldn't even get into the first paragraph, before it was forced to begin spinning the news: "Textron Reports Fourth Quarter Earnings from Continuing Operations Before Special Charges of $0.33."

Even if we forgive the confusing wording of that statement, it's clear that not all industrial victims of financial excess are created equal. Last week, General Electric (NYSE: GE) stunned the Street with an earnings beat, setting the stage for United Technologies' (NYSE: UTX) "echo beat" this morning. Textron was not so lucky.

Let's take a second to re-examine the corporate gibberish to get a better sense of what actually happened this quarter. What Textron told us this morning was that it would have earned $0.33 in Q4 2010, that it actually had to deduct $0.13 worth of restructuring charges, and that as a result, it in fact netted only $0.19 per share for the quarter (and $0.28 for the year). Investors who had been told to expect $0.25 per share in Q4 seem disappointed with the news. They also weren't much pleased by management's warning that it could earn as little as $1 per share in the year to come -- versus the $1.26 per share that Wall Street was projecting.

But was the news really all that bad?

I mean, sure, the $1 promise is a bit of a letdown. But it's better than the $0.28 per share Textron netted in 2010. And management did say that it might possibly earn as much as $1.15 this year -- in which case, the company's forward P/E ratio would work out to about a 23-times multiple. With analysts projecting better than 45% compound annual profits growth going forward, surely 23 times earnings is a low enough price to pay?

Well, maybe it is. Honestly, though, I can't imagine what numbers the analysts had to bake into their assumptions to come up with a "45%" growth rate for a company that already does $10 billion a year in revenue. What I do know is that industrywide, estimates average about 17%, while companies of similar scale to Textron, like GE and UTC, are expected to grow even slower (13% and 10%, respectively). So if you believe Textron is three times better than GE, and four times better than United Tech, maybe the company really is cheap at 23 times forward earnings.

Me, I'm not convinced.

The Fool owns shares of Textron, but Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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