On Thursday morning, you may hear a faint hum from Minnesota. It's not the power lines or a UFO invasion: It's just industrial conglomerate 3M (NYSE:MMM) reporting fourth-quarter and full-year results. But will the numbers be as tasty as the stock ticker implies? I think they just might.

What Fools say:
Here's how 3M'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)

General Electric (NYSE:GE)

$130.7

7.0

****

Siemens AG (NYSE:SI)

$47.1

23.5

****

3M

$37.1

9.8

*****

Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB)

$21.4

12.6

****

Tyco International (NYSE:TYC)

$10.0

9.4

***

Data taken from Motley Fool CAPS on 1/26/09. Data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

GE and Kimberly-Clark didn't impress this time around. That doesn't scare all-star CAPS member jamasony2, though: "Good profit margins, dividend, and some cash on hand."

Fellow CAPS member DiabloD3 waxes poetic about 3M's place in the universe: "A wise man once said, 'Duct tape is like the force … it has a dark side and a light side and it binds the universe together.' It also [binds] a well rounded portfolio together."

To correct this imbalance in the CAPS force, All-Star SwordAgain gives 3M a thumbs-down rating because the company "is probably going to have a large margin squeeze reported at earnings."

What management does:
I'm using pro forma net income figures here to remove the illusory increases in GAAP numbers that were caused by some one-time gains two years ago. That removes much of the drama from these tables, but a climbing cash flow margin looks mighty tasty to classically schooled Fools.

Margins

6/07

9/07

12/07

3/08

6/08

9/08

Gross

48.5%

48.1%

48.2%

48%

47.9%

48%

Operating

22%

22.2%

22.2%

22.4%

22.5%

22.5%

Normalized Earnings

13.6%

13.7%

13.7%

13.8%

13.8%

13.8%

FCF/Revenue

11.5%

10.8%

11.7%

13.1%

13.4%

13.7%

Y-O-Y Growth

6/07

9/07

12/07

3/08

6/08

9/08

Revenue

7.9%

7%

6.7%

7.4%

7.9%

8%

Normalized Earnings

2.5%

4.6%

5.2%

9.1%

9.6%

8.6%

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:
Wax on, wax off, young grasshopper. But when it comes right down to it, this is one of the few stocks on the market that I would feel comfortable betting my house on. The only reason I don't own 3M today is that I'm mostly shooting for more exciting returns with potentially explosive gainers, such as Google and True Religion.

Can't blame you for going the safe route with 3M, though. This week's report is likely to be just as solid as the past seven. If you can't bring yourself to trust search specialists or jeans designers, then the inventive Minnesotans should be right up your alley.

Kimberly-Clark is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Tyco International and 3M are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Or just sign up for a free CAPS account to find the identities of your fellow Fools who were quoted above. They might have more to tell you!

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google and True Religion, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is the Punxsutawney Phil of financial forecasting.