By JOSH FUNK, Associated Press
Caterpillar's first-quarter profit jumped 29 percent and it boosted its outlook for the year as U.S. builders replaced old gear and global demand for mining equipment boomed.
But many investors seemed to be expecting more from the world's largest maker of construction and mining equipment because Caterpillar's stock fell 5 percent.
The company generated $1.59 billion net income, or $2.37 per share, during the quarter. That's up from last year's $1.23 billion net income, or $1.84 per share.
The Peoria, Ill., firm said Wednesday its revenue grew 23 percent to $15.98 billion from last year's $12.95 billion.
Caterpillar said it now expects to generate earnings per share of $9.50 in 2012. That's up from a previous prediction of $9.25, but Caterpillar didn't increase its revenue forecast, and that may have pressured the company's stock before the market opened Wednesday.
While the company beat most expectations easily, revenue came in a little short.
On average, the analysts surveyed by FactSet expected quarterly earnings per share of $2.13 on revenue of $16.18 billion.
And some unsettling data on durable goods sales may have put a damper on Caterpillar shares as well.
Shares of Caterpillar Inc. declined $4.96, or 5 percent, to close at $103.44 Wednesday.
Edward Jones analyst Jeff Windau said Caterpillar's strong quarterly results and improved outlook just weren't as high as many projected.
"Expectations are pretty high for Caterpillar right now," Windau said.
The Commerce Department reported that orders for long-lasting factory goods fell by the largest amount in three years last month.
While that was mostly because demand for commercial aircraft fell, companies ordered less machinery, and that could be a sign that manufacturing output may slow.
Caterpillar said it is continuing to invest in more manufacturing capacity because it currently has a record backlog of orders, especially for its mining products.
Standard & Poor's Capital IQ analyst Michael Jaffe said the strong replacement demand for Caterpillar equipment in the United States and significant global demand for mining products are clear positives for Caterpillar even though sales have slowed in China and Brazil.
Caterpillar's results are watched closely because they are considered an indicator of industrial activity and the health of the overall economy.
Chief Financial Officer Ed Rapp said investors making too much out of the decline in demand in China. He said the situation is a temporary byproduct of the Chinese government's efforts to control inflation.
"We've been to this movie before in China," Rapp said in an interview with The Associated Press. Caterpillar still predicts China's economy will grow 8.5 percent in 20120.
Caterpillar said it expects the global economy will continue to improve and average 3 percent growth in 2012. The U.S. economy will likely see similar growth levels, but Caterpillar said much of Europe will see little or no economic growth this year.
Caterpillar said last year's acquisitions of mining equipment maker Bucyrus International and engine maker MWM Holding GmbH provided a $1.1 billion boost to sales during the quarter. That helped offset decreased demand for construction equipment in China and Brazil.
"We're seeing strong global demand for most mining products and significant growth in replacement demand for products in the United States, which more than offset slowing in China and Brazil," Caterpillar Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman said.
Caterpillar officials tried to allay concerns about China during a conference call with analysts. Mike DeWalt, the company's director of investor relations, said China is important to Caterpillar's long-term plans, but it represents only about 3 percent of total sales now.
"We continue to be a strong believer that China is a major long-term growth opportunity," DeWalt said. "It is a very large economy with significant development and growth still ahead."
Caterpillar Inc.: www.cat.com
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