In today's world, most companies span several regions and sell across the world. As Foolish colleague Morgan Housel notes, 10 years ago, less than a third of S&P 500 revenue came from abroad. Today, that makes up more than half of the S&P 500's growth.

And that number is growing. The truth is, investors regularly underestimate how much demand comes from abroad. More important, for large, multinational corporations that have already established a presence in their home markets, much of their future growth comes from abroad.

With that in mind, today we're looking at 3M (NYSE: MMM). We'll examine not only where its sales and earnings come from, but how its sales abroad have changed over time.

Where 3M's sales were five years ago
Five years ago, 3M produced 39% of its sales within the United States.

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Where 3M's sales are today
Today, America is still 3M's largest market, but its influence is shrinking. While the United States still contributes 35% of sales, domestic sales growth lags far behind other regions.


5-Year Sales Growth

United States 11%
Asia-Pacific 44%
Europe, Middle East, and Africa 20%
Latin America/Canada 57%

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

While it's unlikely the Asia-Pacific segment will surpass the United States to become 3M's largest market in 2011, it's only a matter of time before the hand-off occurs. Also worth noting is the strong growth in the Latin America/Canada market. Even with Canada, a country whose sales growth is likely relatively in line with the United States', weighing down growth rates, the segment posted 57% sales growth over the past five years. That's a pretty heady rate and shows that the company is executing in growth markets like Brazil, as well as fast growing Asian markets like India and China.

Competitor checkup
One last point to check is how 3M's footprint compares with some of its peers:


Geography With Most Sales

Percent of Sales

3M United States 35%
DuPont (NYSE: DD) United States 36%*
Emerson Electric (NYSE: EMR) United States 43%
General Electric (NYSE: GE) United States 47%

Source: S&P Capital IQ. *DuPont reports every country known to man -- and likely some made-up ones as well, so watch out for that. The U.S. is its top reported country while 3M reports larger segments.

As a segment, these conglomerate-like companies are very well diversified. Both DuPont and 3M take the cake for geographic reach and look poised to capitalize emerging-market growth trends relative to blue-chip companies in other sectors. If you're an investor in either DuPont or 3M, you should consider their global focus at the forefront of your investment decision as it affords them a longer "runway" for outsized growth rates. 

Keep searching
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Eric Bleeker owns shares of no companies listed above. You can follow him on Twitter to see all of his technology and market commentary. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Emerson Electric and 3M. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.