Last month, the diversified manufacturer Honeywell (NYSE:HON) announced impressive third-quarter earnings that spurred a 12% rally in the company's stock since the date of the report. It was just the type of performance the company needed to propel shares higher after a lackluster year through October.
This wasn't just a solid quarter, either, but a turbocharged one. The maker of aviation equipment and advanced manufacturing products beat sales and earnings expectations, and expressed confidence by raising the low-end of its full-year 2014 earnings guidance.
Sales were up 5%, and earnings per share jumped 19% compared with the same period in 2013. The low-end of the outlook for EPS was raised from $5.45 to $5.50, which places earnings growth in the 11-12% range year-over-year.
Honeywell has now beat analysts' expectations for at least 4 straight quarters in a row, a streak that could very well continue given its robust backlog and new products in the pipeline. During the conference call, CEO Dave Cote shed light on these upcoming product launches and provided some insight into how he manages each quarter with an eye on long-term outcomes.
Here are the 5 most important quotes from the third-quarter conference call:
The business has benefited from higher volume in the quarter and productivity continues to be a key driver of margin expansion.
-- Dave Cote, Chairman & CEO
Cote noted that sales increased during the quarter due to greater-than-expected demand, but he was quick to point out that the global economy isn't doing Honeywell any favors. China's been a "strong market," but most other areas of the world are in slow-growth mode.
Given this modest expansion, Honeywell is focusing on the things it can control -- internal costs, return on research and development, and new product introductions -- to keep earnings growth humming along. This takes the ebbs and flows of the economy out of the picture from an internal perspective, and it forces managers to keep an eye on costs rather than revenue.
As you know, we take a conservative view on sales expectations. This approach continues to serve us well because it forces us to also be prudent on our cost structure, so if sales grow better than our conservative expectations, we tend to do very well and I think 2014 demonstrates this.
-- Dave Cote, Chairman & CEO
It's no surprise then that profit margins are emphasized during Honeywell's conference calls, and this quarter management continued to find new ways to grow margins as it has in the past.
Segment profit growth and margin expansion were both strong in the quarter. Segment profit increased 9%, while segment margins expanded 70 basis points to 17.4%, which by the way, is 20 basis points more than our guidance. We had profit growth and margin expansion in each of our three SBGs, so again, a balanced contribution across the portfolio.
-- Dave Cote, Chairman & CEO
For perspective, the company's net profit margin percentage has doubled in less than a decade, from 5% in 2004 to 10.05% at the end of 2013. This is due to a combination of tightfisted management and more high-tech products that generate healthier margins.
And, speaking of high-tech products, Honeywell's leadership is particularly excited about the aerospace business, where a spate of new products are currently being rolled out. The most high profile of these are the new G500 and G600 Gulfstream jets, which will be outfitted with Honeywell's touchscreen-driven flight deck known as "The Symmetry" according to a recent press release.
Here's how Cote described the bells and whistles that will be on-board:
[T]he Gulfstream flight deck called Symmetry will include, for the first time ever, integrated Honeywell touchscreens that will be used for cockpit systems controls, flight management, communication, checklists, and monitoring weather and flight information. This new approach reduces pilot workload, while improving communications in a more natural and intuitive way.
If you're familiar with the console that the electric car company Tesla has embedded in its Model S sedan, you can think of it like that -- except on steroids. The company provided a press release image showing the array of screens housed in the forthcoming Gulfstream cockpits:
Of course, if you're not a pilot, odds are you won't be cruising at the front of a Gulfstream at 17,000 feet anytime soon. But Honeywell is set to debut some high-end technology for backseat passengers as well.
In September, the company announced that the Bombardier business planes that use Honeywell equipment will soon feature a reliable in-flight, high-speed Internet connection that works "virtually anywhere in the world." The hardware that powers this technology is referred to as "JetWave" and the service is known as "JetConnex." It will go live in 2015, and will be another differentiator for Honeywell in the market for business jets. Cote elaborated on the technology during the call:
To put it in perspective, this will allow passengers to videoconference, send and receive large files, and access streaming content while on the move by enabling them to access Inmarsat's service. This exclusive high-speed connectivity will also enable us to differentiate our cockpits and mechanical systems through innovative data sharing and services, making aircraft and pilots more efficient.
Where does Honeywell's stock go from here?
Beyond these five quotes, Cote and company shared a variety of great insights -- and plenty of chummy banter -- in their latest discussion with analysts. For investors who want the whole shebang, take a look at the full transcript here.
And for those who want to get down to brass tacks, I think you can look at this quarter as a sign of good things to come for Honeywell's stock. Exposure to a wide variety of industries and geographies continues to help performance even as economic growth remains sluggish. Cote wouldn't elaborate on whether any acquisitions were around the corner, but that's not a huge concern either way. For the time being, I expect Honeywell's shares to outpace the market's returns driven by organic growth alone, and that's what we're looking for as long-term Foolish investors.