This Friday morning, we're getting fourth-quarter and full-year reports from electronics manufacturing expert Jabil Circuit (NYSE:JBL).

What Fools say:
Here's how Jabil's CAPS rating stacks up against some of its peers and competitors:

Company

Market Cap (billions)

Trailing P/E Ratio

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Flextronics International (NASDAQ:FLEX)

$6.2

N/A

 ****

Jabil Circuit

$2.3

25.2

 ***

Benchmark Electronics (NYSE:BHE)

$1.0

11.8

 ***

Sanmina-SCI (NASDAQ:SANM)

$0.9

N/A

 *

Plexus (NASDAQ:PLXS)

$0.9

11.0

 *****

Data from Motley Fool CAPS as of Sept. 24.

In the last three months, five all-star CAPS players have professed their love for Jabil in flowery prose. For example, ResearchLover sees "earnings growth even in this slow economy, and a momentum (upwards) play," and jmclr aimed for a 15% return in three months -- before Jabil dropped another 9.8%. Since neither player has canceled their thumbs-up ratings yet, we might assume that their investment theses are still valid.

What management does:
Razor-thin gross margins are managed brilliantly, even in these times of uncertainty for major Jabil customers like Nokia (NYSE:NOK). The widening cash flow margin is a highlight, but I'm troubled by the slowing sales growth.

Margins

2/2007

5/2007

8/2007

11/2007

2/2008

5/2008

Gross

6.4%

6.4%

6.6%

6.9%

7%

6.9%

Operating

2.2%

2%

2.1%

2.4%

2.4%

2.4%

Net

0.6%

0.1%

0.6%

0.8%

0.4%

0.7%

FCF/Revenue

(2.1%)

(1.6%)

(1%)

2.3%

3.1%

2.9%

Growth (YOY)

2/2007

5/2007

8/2007

11/2007

2/2008

5/2008

Revenue

34.6%

29.6%

19.7%

12.2%

7.3%

4.4%

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

One Fool says:
Well, it's hardly Jabil's fault that the economy is in a tailspin, or that the end users who are supposed to buy the gadgets it assembles are fickle beasts. These problems are hitting all electronics manufacturers equally, and Jabil looks better-positioned than most to weather this storm.

Only Flextronics can claim higher assembly sales than Jabil, but Jabil is profitable today while Flex is not. Plexus sports fatter margins and Sanmina-SCI hastier growth, but they lack Jabil's massive scale, and Sanmina-SCI is going through management changes at the moment. The whole sector looks beaten down and relatively cheap right now, and Jabil is a good balance between stable value and exciting (re-)growth opportunities.

The company has given Wall Street positive earnings surprises for five quarters in a row, while getting its market cap cut in half. I'm expecting another good report but also a muted outlook, and the stock could go anywhere in the short term. If you're buying this stock today, you need a healthy dose of patience.

Plexus is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems Pay Dirt recommendation -- and there's another newsletter pick hiding in this text, too recent for disclosure. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days, and see if you can find it. Or just sign up for a free CAPS account to read more from your fellow Fools who were quoted above. They might have more to tell you!

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here, but lives a half-hour drive away from Jabil's headquarters in St. Pete, Fla. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is the Punxsutawney Phil of financial forecasting.