Hy Builder
Source: Hyster-Yale.

Lift trucks aren't the sexiest business in the stock market, but for a long time, Hyster-Yale Materials Handling (NYSE:HY) rode the recovery in construction and manufacturing to big gains for its forklift business. Yet so far this year, Hyster-Yale stock has performed badly, as investors started to worry about the health of the global economy. After Hyster-Yale released its third-quarter results, some investors focused almost solely on the company's extremely strong results. Yet despite what Hyster-Yale said, the real question for the company remains whether the macroeconomic trends that have propelled the U.S. forward will spread across the world, or whether the sluggishness we've seen in Europe and elsewhere will eventually cause a slowdown in the U.S. as well. Let's take a closer look at how Hyster-Yale did last quarter.

How Hyster-Yale lifted its prospects

Hyster-Yale's headline numbers for the third quarter were extremely impressive. Revenue climbed 8.1% to $695.8 million, almost doubling the growth rate that most investors had expected from the forklift manufacturer. Net income came in at $28.4 million, which equated to $1.70 per share, well above the $1.47 consensus among industry analysts.

Hy Lifter

Source: Hyster-Yale.

Looking more deeply at the numbers, Hyster-Yale saw much of its growth come from a shift in its sales mix to higher-priced models of its lift-truck product line, especially in the Americas. Unit volumes also increased in North America and Europe, and sluggishness in Brazilian unit sales only offset gains elsewhere slightly. Backlogs fell in unit terms, but because of a more lucrative order mix, the net dollar value of those backlogged orders rose slightly. On the income side, Hyster-Yale was able to overcome unfavorable currency impacts to see improvement in operating income, and a drop in overhead expenses also helped boost the company's bottom line.

Still, Hyster-Yale posted solid results across its geographical segments, with solid revenue growth worldwide and gains in operating profits and net income in the Americas and Europe, even as the Asia-Pacific division struggled somewhat. Nevertheless, with the Asia-Pacific region representing Hyster-Yale's smallest segment currently, its impact on the company's overall results was minimal.

What's down the road for Hyster-Yale

Unfortunately, Hyster-Yale tempered its strong results for the third quarter with mixed guidance for the future. The company said growth rates will slow down for the rest of 2014 and into 2015, especially as Japan and China see continued deceleration in their economic growth. Hyster-Yale expects North America to remain a key driver of growth in unit volume, and some European markets such as Russia will also help to push overall sales higher. Next year, though, Hyster-Yale anticipates that operating profits could remain stable in the Americas and even decrease slightly in Europe.

Hy Forklift
Source: Hyster-Yale.

Nevertheless, Hyster-Yale is working at maximizing its sales opportunities. Its development programs are focusing on building out its line of premium products, seeking to capitalize on the trend toward higher-end lift trucks and providing customers with what they need to be more efficient in their own operations. In addition, improvements to existing products could spur further interest in Hyster-Yale's line among customers, helping to build market share toward the company's long-term goals.

Despite its best efforts, many of the factors that could have the biggest impact on Hyster-Yale are out of the company's control. The industrial customers that provide much of Hyster-Yale's overall business need favorable economic conditions to drive demand for their products, and the more profitable they are, the more they can afford to spend on capital equipment like forklifts to improve productivity. Strength in the U.S. economy should help Hyster-Yale's domestic business, but the company also needs better results from its international business to boost revenue to the greatest extent possible.

Most investors will focus on Hyster-Yale's immediate results. But looking forward, some of the economic trends that will affect industrial activity for years to come will eventually make the numbers that Hyster-Yale posted for the third quarter insignificant by comparison.

Dan Caplinger and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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.