Not generally a wild and crazy stock, Rock-Tenn (NYSE:RKT) shares got a positive boost on Friday with a solid earnings report. While higher input costs and difficult pricing are still problematic for this producer of paperboard and folding cartons, the recent acquisition of Gulf States' paperboard and packaging businesses (which we'll refer to as GSPP) gave a boost.

For the fiscal third quarter, total sales climbed about 7%. Netting out the incremental contribution of GSPP, sales would have been down about 3%. Not only did the company see better gross margins for this quarter but also SG&A expenses improved as a percentage of sales (in part thanks to acquisition synergies). On the bottom line, reported net income reversed a year-ago loss and handily beat consensus estimates even when stripping out a sizable tax benefit.

It's important to realize, though, that a lot of this quarter's success is due to that acquisition. Of the roughly $9.8 million of pre-tax profit for the quarter, management attributed more than $7 million to GSPP. Without that acquisition, it looks as though both sales and operating income would have been lower in all three of the company's operating units.

This isn't the easiest of times for packaging companies like Rock-Tenn. Raw material and energy costs have been rising, and it's been difficult to pass along those costs. While various producers have tried to implement price increases, customers have a great deal of sway in this market and have often squeezed away those attempted increases.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. Rock-Tenn has a certain degree of appeal as a defensive play. When times are tough, people still eat, and food producers still need packaging for their products. What's more, the acquisition of GSPP included a top-notch mill in Demopolis, Ala. Over time, the inclusion of this mill should improve efficiency and profit margins.

This is by no means a bad company, but I just can't get all that fired up about this stock. It does pay a respectable dividend and it is cash-flow positive, but the company has a lot riding on the successful integration of GSPP, and growth is never going to be blockbuster.

Investors looking for some defensive ideas might want to take a look, but if I were to get into the paper/packaging industry today, I'd probably look first at International Paper (NYSE:IP) or UPM-Kymmene (NYSE:UPM).

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).