Say you want to invest in cutting-edge technologies. Robots, perhaps. Or weapons detection systems. But Honda's (NYSE:HMC) robots are too pacifist for you, and iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT) too obvious an investment. American Science & Engineering's (NASDAQ:ASEI) name is too long to remember, and you think Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) is too big to grow significantly.

Say, in essence, you're looking for high-tech security and military investments, but you're an absolute glutton for punishment. You want to invest in the most obscure and difficult-to-research company in these industries. Fool, I think I've found the company for you. Leave the major U.S. stock indexes for a moment and travel with me to the Pink Sheets, where we'll investigate Britain's QinetiQ Group (OTC BB: QNTQF.PK). According to the firm's website, "Audited preliminary results for the year ended 31st March 2007 will be available on 31st May."

What analysts say: Nada. So far as I can tell, meaning so far as the Fool's data provider tells me, no one follows Qinetiq, either here or abroad. That means no earnings estimates for this $2.6 billion company, and no guesses as to revenue, either.

What management says:
In March, QinetiQ's North American subsidiary -- called, appropriately enough, QinetiQ North America -- held an "Investor and Analyst Event" in which it described its business. The upshot of the presentation: This could quite possibly be the most interesting company you've never heard of. Sixty years in the making and boasting 12,500 employees, QinetiQ originated within the DERA, Britain's national defense research arm (much like DARPA, the U.S. agency that created the Internet). As for its stock in trade, if it sounds like something out of a Star Wars movie, then chances are QinetiQ has a hand in it -- robotics, UAVs, advanced sensors, it does it all.

Roughly one-third of its employees work in the U.S., and a bit more than one-third of revenue is derived from U.S. sources -- $800 million in all. The rest comes from abroad.

What management does:
"High-tech" doesn't always mean "highly profitable." Reviewing margin trends at QinetiQ, we see that rolling gross, operating, and net margins are all headed downward.





























All data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects trailing-12-month performance for the quarters ending in the named months.

One Fool says:
Nor does "exotic" always mean "good." When I lay out the numbers against those of the major U.S. defense contractors, the latter shine in comparison. Take operating margins, for example. QinetiQ's 5.8% operating profit margin is barely half General Dynamics' (NYSE:GD) 10.9%, and below the high-single-digit margins that Lockheed and Raytheon (NYSE:RTN) boast.

Compared to smaller high-tech whiz kids, QinetiQ fares both better and worse. AS&E's 24% margin puts QinetiQ to shame, but the negative margins that iRobot pulls in are clearly inferior to QinetiQ's positive operating profit. Valuation-wise, QinetiQ's $2.6 billion market cap gives it a reasonable price-to-sales ratio of 1.2 (about the same as Raytheon gets, a bit cheaper than the General, and a bit pricier than Lockheed), but a nosebleed price-to-earnings ratio of 30.3 -- nearly twice the valuation of any of the U.S. majors.

Long story short, this is an interesting company, and I'll definitely be taking a look at its progress when it reports Thursday morning. But for now, I see a whole host of better ideas right here at home.

Learn more about some of QinetiQ's higher-profile ventures in:

For more intriguing opportunities overseas, check out a 30-day free trial of Motley Fool Global Gains. iRobot and American Science & Engineering are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks.

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of both iRobot and AS&E. The Fool's disclosure policy will open the pod bay doors now.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.