Is bigger better? When it comes to the Motley Fool and its writing staff -- absolutely. When the Fool had just a handful of writers on hand and was stretched to cover even the tiniest fraction of news floating around the investing universe, a lot of stuff fell through the cracks.
But today, as our ranks swell and scores of talented analyst/writers take up the pen and share their unique insights with our readers, those cracks are closing up.
Mind you, I'm not counting myself among the ranks of our writers with actual talent. But with their advent on the Foolish staff, it's freed up more time for guys like me to do some crack-caulking.
So in today's column, I'd like to begin by filling in a particularly large fissure I've noticed -- a $33 billion company that has gone without coverage here for years.
Over the past two weeks, Honeywell's shares have rocketed 10% in value -- with a 3% gain tacked on just yesterday. Yet the company's earnings story doesn't seem to explain Honeywell's sudden popularity. Sales increased 10% in Q2 2005 against the company's Q2 2004 performance, but earnings plunged -- down 14% from the year-ago period.
That, however, is just the surface story. Underneath its unsightly crust of GAAP numbers, Honeywell is indeed a powerhouse of profits. The reason profits declined this quarter was that Honeywell, which does a tremendous amount of its work overseas, took advantage of a provision of the American Jobs Creation Act that allowed it to repatriate $2.7 billion worth of foreign-earned profits and pay a discounted tax bill thereon. It was a use-it-or-lose-it provision, and Honeywell made the smart choice of using it.
With the profits in question having already been earned and reported, they didn't show up on the company's Q2 report. But with the taxes only now being assessed, they did show up on the report -- and that hurt Honeywell's reported numbers. Had Honeywell not opted to repatriate its profits and pay discounted taxes on them this quarter, its profits would actually have risen 28% in comparison to the year-ago period (29% on a per-diluted-share basis).
Which shows once again why we at Fool.com spend so much time focusing on companies' free cash flow numbers, as opposed to the often (legally, and honestly) misleading numbers that appear through quirks in generally accepted accounting principles. When sales rise 10% and free cash flow rises 15% (as it did at Honeywell) but net profits decline, that's a good clue that the surface story isn't the only one you should be reading.
Fool contributor Rich Smith has no financial position in Honeywell.