NEW YORK (RealMoney) -- Some companies aren't supposed to do what they are doing. 3M (MMM - Get Report) is not supposed to have 5%-6% organic growth. Honeywell (HON - Get Report) is not supposed to exceed its five-year plan. Boeing (BA - Get Report) is not supposed to be able to sell more planes than it says it could.
But they do. They all do.
I recently spoke to Inge Thulin, CEO of 3M, and his level of confidence about the future was extraordinary, NOT because he thinks that the future's bright, but because he thinks he has the products if the future ISN'T bright.
Many of the company's goods fill basic unmet needs in a way that nobody else is thinking about. So many CEOs, for example, are worried about their businesses slowing in China. But 3M looks at China in a totally different way. It sees China as a place that has filthy air and water, and has decided to make that its business by coming up with novel filtration methods to fix both of them. It invents things now that produce earnings now. An astounding 32% to 33% of 3M's current products didn't exist five years ago. Talk about not resting on your laurels!
Honeywell recognizes that conservation is going to be important whether oil is at $40 or $90 or $140. It's just a societal imperative to make our use of energy less intensive. So it designs products that get more refined product out of a barrel of oil and use less of that oil or refined product when it's burned in cars. When buildings are built, Honeywell's in there designing them so they use 40% less electricity than they would otherwise. Honeywell knows that there's no turning back the clock. We aren't suddenly going to be putting up inefficient structures that use more electricity than they have to.
Boeing's building planes that are much more fuel-efficient. Despite what the bears have said over and over again, in every medium, there has been no sign whatsoever that the airlines are cutting back on new orders. There is not a single airline that has told Boeing "You know what, we aren't going to take delivery of those planes," because, in the end, what's the point? Let's say that everyone's wrong and oil stays down here -- and when I say everyone's wrong, I mean that I don't know a soul who believes oil will be at $47 next year at this time -- these airlines still want to spend less on fuel because that boosts gross margins. They all need planes, because the planes are so often full that if they had more of them they would make more money.
All three companies throw off a huge amount of cash, even with the dollar where it is and Europe treading water and China's growth rate decelerating. All three are systematic boosters of their dividends and buyers of their stock, and all three have plenty of room to keep doing so, because all three have tremendous balance sheets.
Which brings me back to the concept of companies doing what they aren't supposed to be doing. 3M, Honeywell and Boeing should be missing numbers horribly: strong dollar, weak emerging markets, overbuilt markets, and too much competition, much of it subsidized.
But they don't.
And that, most of all, is what drives seasoned stock pros batty. You know what the pros are missing? They aren't calculating the hard work tactics and strategies of three people: Thulin the CEO of 3M; Jim McNerney, CEOof Boeing and Dave Cote, CEO of Honeywell. If they did, they would know that their cynicism and their models and their prognostications don't hold up against superior leadership at the helms of these three tremendous companies.