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Someone seems to be holding down the fast-forward button as Terex's (NYSE: TEX ) recovery unspools.
After persistently pleading with investors to avoid this recession-battered stock, I reversed my stance last October, while highlighting a growing fortress of strength visible in Terex's operations. The shares certainly haven't disappointed, surging nearly 60% since that article appeared. That's an enormous move over a very short time, and just enough for this ever-cautious Fool to grow somewhat skeptical about the prospects for its sustained upward momentum.
Terex did substantially narrow its fourth-quarter net loss, to $32.5 million from $103 million in 2009, and net sales from continuing operations improved a respectable 31.2% to $1.3 billion. However, this loss came in 200% greater than analysts anticipated, suggesting that these shares may have moved too far, too fast.
Terex expects to lose $0.10 to $0.15 per share in the first quarter of 2010, before transitioning to operating profitability. But even the company's latest guidance, for full-year 2011 earnings of $0.60 to $0.75 per share, falls short of the consensus estimate of $0.77. The fact that shares remain within spitting distance of their 52-week high, following this string of disappointments, seems to increase the chances that Fools looking to participate in the company's long-term recovery may encounter more favorable entry points forthcoming.
One could argue that Terex caught a major break when Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) launched its $7.6 billion acquisition of Bucyrus (Nasdaq: BUCY ) last November. After all, the 7% equity stake that Terex retained in Bucyrus following the sale of its mining equipment business in 2009 appreciated handsomely as a result. Because the Caterpillar deal is an all-cash affair, however, Terex will now be stripped of that attractive investment exposure to the single hottest niche of the equipment manufacturing industry.
Without question, Terex has seen some noteworthy improvements to business conditions for each of its remaining units. As the company boasts, "all of our segments increased net sales this past quarter on both a yearly and sequential basis, and three of our four segments had positive income from operations." Even the construction segment, which weighed so heavily upon operating results throughout recent years, has moved substantially closer to profitability lately (with orders flowing in from Brazil and Central Europe).
Following a remarkable 80% run-up over the trailing 12 months, I consider Terex shares patently overheated. I ascribe superior long-term growth potential to former competitor Joy Global (Nasdaq: JOYG ) , but even that stock gives me pause at these levels. I encourage Fools to shift focus a bit and examine the Market Vectors Coal ETF (NYSE: KOL ) , for exposure to Joy Global and a host of related plays in the red-hot coal sector. I believe that an opportune time to buy Terex shares will likely present itself again, but at these lofty levels, I don't think that time is now.