Shares of Honeywell International (NYSE:HON) rose more than 4% higher in Friday trading, erasing their loss for the first weeks of the year to return the stock to positive territory for 2015. All because the U.S. conglomerate reported Friday that it grew its sales 3% in 2014.
Well, maybe not exactly "all because." But the fact that Honeywell beat estimates for last year's sales does appear to lie behind at least part of investors' enthusiasm. Here's how the other numbers played out:
- Fourth-quarter sales came in at $10.3 billion (down 1% year over year, but ahead of estimates).
- Fourth-quarter profits "beat by a penny," with $1.43 per share reported (not counting pension contributions).
- Sales for the year topped out at $40.3 billion (up 3% year over year).
- Operating profit margin gained 30 basis points, rising to 16.6%.
- Net profit was $5.33 per share (up 8%).
So 3% sales growth and 8% profit growth. Neither number is likely to set the world on fire, but each was enough to exceed analyst expectations on its own. Perhaps the best news of the day, though, was that Honeywell generated $3.9 billion in positive free cash flow last year. That was a 16% improvement over 2013's result.
Now here's the bad news -- and the reasons investors are wrong to be buying Honeywell shares today.
Better isn't good enough
That strong free cash flow still wasn't enough to equal the profit Honeywell is claiming on its income statement. To the contrary, relative to Honeywell's net income of $4.3 billion, the company's free cash flow of $3.9 billion fell more than 9% short of reported profits. What's more, even the 16% improvement in FCF that was Honeywell's best news of the day is unlikely to be repeated this year.
Commenting on expectations for 2015, Honeywell said it expects free cash flow will only grow by 8%-10% (to $4.2 billion-$4.3 billion). Net income, meanwhile, is expected to grow by 7%-11% ($5.95-$6.15 per share, not counting pension contributions).
Priced at 19.4 times earnings today, Honeywell shares cost far more than the stock's projected 10% long-term growth rate (as quoted on S&P Capital IQ) can justify. The fact that analysts' 10% growth expectation is already near the high mark of what Honeywell itself is prepared to promise for 2015 suggests further upside to its guidance is unlikely. Meanwhile, the stock is even more expensive when valued on its lagging free cash flow number -- selling for 20 times free cash flow, to be precise.
Granted, Honeywell stock pays a nice dividend, yielding 2.1% at last count. Granted, too, it's a big, globally important company that will not "go away" anytime soon. For investors simply hoping to "sleep well at night," these two factors might justify holding on to any Honeywell shares they already own. But as for buying more?
No way, if you ask me. Honeywell is simply too expensive for that.