Savvy investors know that price is what you pay for a stock, but value is what you get. The only problem is that many investors don't know how to value a stock and fall into the trap of just using a P/E ratio or other short-cut approaches. However, as part of our process, we perform a rigorous discounted cash-flow methodology that dives into the true intrinsic worth of companies for all firms in our coverage universe (click here). Let's dig into what 3M (NYSE:MMM) is worth.

For starters, we think a comprehensive analysis of a firm's discounted cash-flow valuation and relative valuation versus industry peers is the best way to identify the most attractive stocks at the best time to buy. This process culminates in what we call our Valuentum Buying Index, which ranks stocks on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. Essentially, we're looking for firms that overlap investment methodologies, thereby revealing the greatest interest by investors (we like firms that fall in the center of the diagram below). Some may know that more interest in a stock leads to more buying, which increases the likelihood of price convergence to intrinsic value.

If a company is undervalued both on a DCF and on a relative valuation basis and is showing improvement in technical and momentum indicators, it scores high on our scale. 3M posts a VBI score of 6 on our scale, reflecting our "fairly valued" DCF assessment of the firm, its neutral relative valuation versus peers, and bullish technicals. We compare 3M to peers Danaher (NYSE:DHR), Tyco Intl (NYSE:TYC) and Honeywell (NYSE:HON).

**Our Report on 3M**

**Investment Considerations**

**Investment Highlights**

â€˘ 3M's business quality (an evaluation of our ValueCreationâ„˘ and ValueRiskâ„˘ ratings) ranks among the best of the firms in our coverage universe. The firm has been generating economic value for shareholders with relatively stable operating results for the past few years, a combination we view very positively.

â€˘ 3M makes imaginative products, and it is a leader in many markets - from healthcare and highway safety to office products and abrasives and adhesives. The company is perhaps among the most innovative firms in our coverage universe.

â€˘ 3M has an excellent combination of strong free cash flow generation and low financial leverage. We expect the firm's free cash flow margin to average about 14.7% in coming years. Total debt-to-EBITDA was 0.7 last year, while debt-to-book capitalization stood at 25.4%.

â€˘ 3M has ambitious goals for the period 2013 through 2017. The company expects annual organic revenue growth of 4-6%, annual earnings per share expansion of 9-11%, and 100% free cash flow conversion of net income. Our revenue and earnings expectations are below those of management, suggesting upside to our fair value estimate.

â€˘ The firm sports a very nice dividend yield of 2.5%. We expect the firm to pay out about 37% of next year's earnings to shareholders as dividends.

**Business Quality**

**Economic Profit Analysis**

The best measure of a firm's ability to create value for shareholders is expressed by comparing its return on invested capital ((NASDAQ:ROIC)) with its weighted average cost of capital (OTC:WACC). The gap or difference between ROIC and WACC is called the firm's economic profit spread. 3M's 3-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is 30.4%, which is above the estimate of its cost of capital of 9.4%. As such, we assign the firm a ValueCreationâ„˘ rating of EXCELLENT. In the chart below, we show the probable path of ROIC in the years ahead based on the estimated volatility of key drivers behind the measure. The solid gray line reflects the most likely outcome, in our opinion, and represents the scenario that results in our fair value estimate.

**Cash Flow Analysis**

Firms that generate a free cash flow margin (free cash flow divided by total revenue) above 5% are usually considered cash cows. 3M's free cash flow margin has averaged about 15.2% during the past 3 years. As such, we think the firm's cash flow generation is relatively STRONG. The free cash flow measure shown above is derived by taking cash flow from operations less capital expenditures and differs from enterprise free cash flow (FCFF), which we use in deriving our fair value estimate for the company. At 3M, cash flow from operations increased about 5% from levels registered two years ago, while capital expenditures expanded about 53% over the same time period.

**Valuation Analysis**

The estimated fair value of $96 per share represents a price-to earnings (P/E) ratio of about 16.1 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 9.8 times last year's EBITDA. Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of 3.8% during the next five years, a pace that is lower than the firm's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate of 5.4%. Our model reflects a 5-year projected average operating margin of 22.4%, which is above 3M's trailing 3-year average. Beyond year 5, we assume free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 2.2% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. For 3M, we use a 9.4% weighted average cost of capital to discount future free cash flows.

**Margin of Safety Analysis**

Our discounted cash flow process values each firm on the basis of the present value of all future free cash flows. Although we estimate the firm's fair value at about $96 per share, every company has a range of probable fair values that's created by the uncertainty of key valuation drivers (like future revenue or earnings, for example). After all, if the future was known with certainty, we wouldn't see much volatility in the markets as stocks would trade precisely at their known fair values. Our ValueRiskâ„˘ rating sets the margin of safety or the fair value range we assign to each stock. In the graph below, we show this probable range of fair values for 3M. We think the firm is attractive below $78 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $114 per share (the red line). The prices that fall along the yellow line, which includes our fair value estimate, represent a reasonable valuation for the firm, in our opinion.

**Future Path of Fair Value**

We estimate 3M's fair value at this point in time to be about $96 per share. As time passes, however, companies generate cash flow and pay out cash to shareholders in the form of dividends. The chart below compares the firm's current share price with the path of 3M's expected equity value per share over the next three years, assuming our long-term projections prove accurate. The range between the resulting downside fair value and upside fair value in Year 3 represents our best estimate of the value of the firm's shares three years hence. This range of potential outcomes is also subject to change over time, should our views on the firm's future cash flow potential change. The expected fair value of $119 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $96 increased at an annual rate of the firm's cost of equity less its dividend yield. The upside and downside ranges are derived in the same way, but from the upper and lower bounds of our fair value estimate range.

**Pro Forma Financial Statements**

**Disclosure: **I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.