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Honeywell International (NYSE: HON) gave its annual investor conference on Wednesday and updated investors on its 2017 outlook. In a nutshell, there was no change to the guidance given on its first quarter. That said, there is a case for believing that management is being a little conservative with its 2017 guidance, and at the conference management described the oil & gas and defense sectors -- previously problematic for Honeywell -- as improving. On a less positive note, the business-jet market still looks weak, with Honeywell predicting a recovery only toward the end of 2018.
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No matter, investing isn't just about the numbers. It's also about the people that make the numbers, and a key focus of the event was getting investors used to incoming CEO Darius Adamczyk. His address highlighted four key areas of focus:
- Accelerating organic growth
- Expanding margins via productivity rigor
- Becoming a software-industrial company
- More aggressive capital deployment
In a sense, there's nothing new about the first three points. Honeywell's forecast for 1% to 3% organic growth in 2017 comes after a year when core organic sales unexpectedly declined 1%. Clearly, investors would like to see more growth, and the pressure is on Adamczyk to deliver. Margin expansion has always been a key part of Honeywell's modus operandi, and its connected enterprise initiatives are part and parcel of being an industrial company these days.
However, what really caught the eye was the plan to be more aggressive with capital deployment in the next few years, particularly if President Trump's tax reform proves favorable for investment. The plan includes a more aggressive stance with regard to:
- Share repurchases
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Capital expenditures
- A dividend "that grows at or above our EPS growth rate"
Does it matter to the investment thesis?
Focusing on the more aggressive capital deployment plans, the truth is that Adamczyk's plans are pretty much to be expected, but it's good to hear them confirmed. He's inheriting a company set to increase free cash flow generation in future years, and as the new man in charge, it's natural that he would want to stamp his mark on the company by making acquisitions and divestitures.
Furthermore, the economy remains in a low-interest-rate environment and Honeywell has been struggling to grow in recent years -- some acquisition-led growth would be nice. Moreover, Trump's tax repatriation plans are encouraging companies to be more expansive in their capital deployment plans.
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