Caterpillar’s shares hit record high on profit beat, robust demand

Caterpillar beat estimates with a double-digit jump in operating profit on Monday to send its shares to a record high buoyed by mining equipment sales and higher prices across its machinery divisions.

Shares for the Texas-based company were up 5%.

Spending on heavy machinery held steady among commercial clients. Dealer inventories fell for the first time in four quarters, by $900 million, in an encouraging sign that spending remains resilient helped by President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure law to upgrade roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.

Analysts expect commercial construction, which accounts for 75% of Caterpillar’s business, to help safeguard the company’s margins this year despite an anticipated slowdown in global economic growth.

“This stock has really become a barometer for not just the industrial economy but the global economy writ large – it has also been more resilient than expected,” said Kristen Owen, executive director at Oppenheimer & Co Inc.

Chief Financial Officer Andrew Bonfield told investors on a conference call that top-line estimates would be relatively similar to last year, adding: “We believe that the bottom end of the range remains challenging, but achievable.” Retail sales in North America were up 11% year on year. Purchases for commercial customers in the Asia Pacific region were down 5% as China’s troubled property market continues to drag on sales in the region. The company’s profit margins have been helped by a $28.1 billion order backlog for construction equipment and demand from customers in oil and gas, power generation, rail and defense in the past year.

Despite drilling at North American oil rigs showing signs of weakening, the industrial powerhouse is still benefiting from higher purchase volumes for its haul trucks and other mid- to large-sized mining equipment.

Purchases of heavy machinery from construction and mining industries aided Caterpillar’s full-year operating margin. Profit for the world’s largest construction company in the energy and transportation segment rose 21% from the year prior.

Its operating profit margin increased to 18.4% in the fourth quarter from 10.1% a year earlier.

The company’s fourth-quarter profit rose to $2.68 billion, or $5.28 per share, topping consensus estimates of $4.75 per share.

Sales and revenue for the quarter ended Dec. 31 were in line with analysts forecasts, rising to $17.1 billion from $16.6 billion.

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