Results for the company's third quarter were all right. Sales climbed 8%, as reported, and management pegged the organic revenue growth rate at 5%. Margins improved across three of the four main business groups, and Honeywell posted 28% growth in earnings per share, on top of 26% growth in net income. Cash flow performance, though, is a bit pokier, and the company's year-to-date free cash flow is up only about 6% over last year's first nine months.
Aerospace is still the company's largest segment, and it also happened to be the leader this quarter in terms of organic growth, with about 6%. Automation and control results were boosted by an acquisition that inflated revenue growth from the 4% organic rate to the 23% reported rate, though margins improved in either case. Transportation sales were flat and margins were hurt by higher raw materials, while the specialty materials business experienced 6% organic growth despite divesting the performance fiber and industrial wax businesses.
On one hand, I would like to give Honeywell credit for seemingly having sorted out its businesses and put itself on a path to create better value for shareholders. On the other hand, I can't look past the fact that the company is tied up in some very competitive and mature markets. When you have to compete with the likes of Rockwell Collins
At the bottom line, the company is on track to match its long-term record of mid-single-digit growth in annual structural free cash flow. Even giving it the benefit of the doubt with respect to above-average future cash flow growth, I can't come up with a cash flow-based price target that makes the stock look interesting. Ditto for an earnings-based approach. Consequently, I don't see a very sweet opportunity in Honeywell shares today.
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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).