What: Eaton Corporation (NYSE:ETN) shares jumped an impressive 10% last month. That advance comes after a strong February and leaves this industrial giant up over 21% for the year. That said, it's still down around 16% since the start of 2014. But there's a lot of story in between those two numbers.
So what: It's been rough for industrials over the past couple of years, with a mixture of slowing global demand and a strong dollar combining to cut into results. For example, Eaton had sales of around $22.5 billion in 2014, but that number dropped to $20.8 billion last year. And the company is expecting organic sales to fall slightly year over year in 2016, so it doesn't look like things are expected to get much better any time soon.
But here's the thing: Despite the downturn, Eaton had a solidly profitable year in 2015, posting earnings of more than $4.20 a share. Management expects earnings for 2016 to be between $4.15 and $4.45 a share, supported by continued cost-cutting and stock buybacks. Those are pretty big numbers to post during a difficult period for demand.
So investors have reacted appropriately, directionally speaking, to the impact that slowing industrial demand will have on Eaton, sending the shares lower. But when the shares were off some 35% from their 2014 highs in early January, the magnitude of the decline looked a little overdone for what remains a well-run, solidly profitable, and still-dominant global industrial giant.
Now what: Eaton is working hard to deal with the current market environment it faces. So far, it seems to have weathered the falloff in demand. Now that investors are starting to feel a little less pessimistic, they've realized that Eaton shares may, in fact, be something of a bargain. Those with a long-term mind-set might want to take a deeper dive, since the shares are still off of the highs achieved just a few years ago.