OK, Mr. Market. Very funny. Now tell me what you really think.

Alliant Techsystems (NYSE: ATK) closed out its fiscal year 2008 with an earnings report on Thursday that showed 17% sales growth and 21% improvement in earnings per share. It beat earnings estimates for the quarter and year, and raised guidance for fiscal 2009. And the response? Tepid. The stock has remained flat.

That sounds weird enough, but it's not even all the good news ATK had to report. Sales for the year were $4.2 billion, right? Well, ATK also booked $6.5 billion in new orders for the year, meaning that backlog is growing faster than sales, so sales should continue to increase going forward. Operating margins tacked on a full percentage point; at 10.5%, ATK's operating profit margin now rivals those of General Dynamics (NYSE: GD) and Raytheon (NYSE: RTN). It easily eclipses the profitability of aerospace firms like Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC), Orbital Sciences (NYSE: ORB), and Boeing (NYSE: BA).

And speaking of profits, the company generated $280 million in free cash flow, some 24% more than it reported as accounting profits under GAAP. So what does it take to please investors these days?

Maybe this will do it
How about the fact that ATK experienced its best growth in its two biggest businesses: Armaments posted 16% sales growth and 24% operating profits growth. Mission systems reported 22% and 31%, respectively. Even at the slightly smaller launch systems group, ATK posted double-digit growth in both sales and earnings. So basically, things went well across the board, and especially well in the two units where it would do the most good.

Better luck next year?
With Mr. Market playing so hard to get this year, a Fool has to wonder whether next year's results will be received any better. Management expects to sell about $4.5 billion worth of stuff, which, at 7% year-on-year growth, would admittedly be a slowdown from this year's pace. But on the plus side, management hopes to tack another 50 basis points onto its operating margin, pushing it past Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) in terms of pennies earned per dollar of revenue. The end result should bring about $7.25 per share net.

So much success last quarter, with so little reward, tells me that there was something missing. The missing piece appeared Friday, when ATK confirmed that the government of Canada had nixed a planned acquisition, rolling back $0.11 per share worth of Q4 profits. Honestly, though, I can't see how this cancels out all the good news from last quarter.

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