Financial Performance

Caterpillar Earnings Miss Amid China Downturn

The company's shares fell more than 9% as it forecast "roughly flat" construction sales growth in China this year.
Matthew HellerJanuary 28, 2019
Caterpillar Earnings Miss Amid China Downturn

Caterpillar shares tumbled on Monday after the company reported its biggest earnings miss in a decade, reflecting in part weaker demand for construction equipment in China.

For the fourth quarter, Caterpillar made a profit of $1.78 per share, compared with a loss of $2.18 per share in the fourth quarter of 2017. Revenue rose 11% to $14.34 billion, just above analysts’ estimates of $14.33 billion.

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But adjusted earnings came in at $2.55 per share, missing estimates of $2.99 per share. It was Caterpillar’s biggest earnings miss in 10 years, according to research firm Bespoke Investment Group.

The company’s shares fell 9.3% to $124.15 — on pace for their worst day since 2011 — as it also forecast 2019 profit would increase to a range of $11.75 to $12.75 per share. Analysts had expected $12.73 per share.

“Our outlook assumes a modest sales increase based on the fundamentals of our diverse end markets as well as the macroeconomic and geopolitical environment,” CEO Jim Umpleby said in a news release.

Caterpillar has been experiencing weak demand in China, which accounts for between 5% and 10% of its total sales and 10% to 15% of its construction unit’s revenue. Construction industry sales in the Asia/Pacific region declined 4 %, or $64 million, in the fourth quarter from a year earlier.

“Weakness in China is problematic for Caterpillar,” CNN noted. “China has spent an enormous sum on infrastructure over the past few years — and has bought a lot of Caterpillar bulldozers, excavators and tractors in the process.”

During a conference call with analysts, Umpleby said Caterpillar expects construction growth this year in Asia-Pacific countries outside of China but “we are forecasting the overall China market to be roughly flat in 2019 following two years of significant growth.”

In North America, Caterpillar’s construction industry sales increased 17% in the fourth quarter over a year earlier due to higher demand for new equipment, primarily to support oil and gas activities and non-residential building construction.

But the company said higher material and freight costs due to tariffs, steel prices and supply chain inefficiencies also affected its results.