Caterpillar Legs Out a Strong Quarter

It's an important issue that will be oft-repeated before the end of the current earnings season -- and likely in the next one, as well. But it's crucial that we all become aware of the growing disparity between the strength of the world's economy and the faltering nature of our own domestic circumstances, as was again made abundantly clear by Caterpillar's (NYSE: CAT  ) most recent results.

Overall, for the December-ended period, the company earned $975 million, or $1.50 a share. Revenues were up 10% year over year.

But since Caterpillar does an admirable job of detailing its geographic strengths and weaknesses -- unlike Honeywell (NYSE: HON  ) , for instance -- let's take a quick glance at some of the key areas of concentration for Caterpillar's two key products: machinery and engines.

  • Machinery sales were up 9% overall, but down 11% in North America. The continent's slippage was, however, more than offset by a 24% increase in Latin America and a 31% spike in the Asia/Pacific region.
  • Engine sales were up 6% globally, while slipping 14% in North America, where on-highway truck engines fell fully 59%. Latin American engine sales were up 3%, with Asia/Pacific checking in with a 26% jump.

Looking ahead, Caterpillar intends to step up research and development expenditures, along with capital investment around the world. Its objective is overall margin and profitability growth. All things considered, management anticipates that revenues will climb 5% to 10%, and per-share profits will likely grow in a 5% to 15% range for the new year.

For my money, the key to Caterpillar as a potential investment is its ability to chalk up sales growth of the magnitude it displayed in Asia at precisely the time it's experiencing a pullback in North America. Indeed, the trend of softness in the U.S., offset by growth in other venues, has been duplicated to one degree or another recently by the likes of General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , Honeywell, and even oilfield services leader Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB  ) .

In the meantime, given the nature of the products produced by Caterpillar, along with their strong demand in the developing nations, I'm recommending that Fools develop a keen interest in the company.

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