Will Deere Go Full-Throttle in 2012?

Deere's (NYSE: DE  )  all-around powerful performance in 2011 was definitely a high point, never mind the fact that its shares couldn't keep pace as global slowdown fears hung heavy in the air. The farm-equipment giant looks poised to take forward the good times into 2012.

Superb product launches and emerging market opportunities should be the key to a strong 2012. Here's what to expect from the industrial behemoth this year.

In top gear
2011 went down in Deere's history as the year of new launches with the company unveiling its largest-ever, most innovative, and technologically advanced line up of agriculture equipment. These launches are likely to add significantly to Deere's sales -- in fact, the company is expecting sales of its agriculture and turf equipment to go up by almost 15% in 2012.

With farmers even in developing nations warming up to automated and advanced equipment, Deere's new tractors, with their greater horsepower and fuel capacity as well as better handling comfort, could find more takers. Deere's sales from regions such as Asia, Africa and South America grew by more than 30% last year from 2010 levels, and we can only expect their share to grow further this year.

Driving beyond U.S. shores
Just last week, the company finalized the location of its second tractor unit in India, even while inaugurating its first Indian combine factory. New facilities and capacity expansions are also underway in China, Brazil, and Russia, with production in most of them expected to begin in 2013. In Brazil, after a successful agriculture stint, last year Deere decided to enter the country's high-potential construction market and will start building two new equipment factories in Sao Paulo soon.

Deere is not the only one eyeing these fast-growing markets, however, and competition is heating up. Peer Manitowoc (NYSE: MTW  ) is now building a 250,000-square-foot crane plant near Paso Fundo after gaining footholds in both China and India. The proportion of revenue from the Asian markets for Manitowoc has, in fact, doubled in the last five years. Biggie Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) is also setting up new facilities in India, and has unveiled big expansion plans for China, where it is all set to gain a leadership position.  

But this stiff competition doesn't worry me, as I feel these markets have enough space for all. And I won't be surprised if Deere channels a major chunk of its research-and-development expenditure (which is expected to be 10% higher in 2012) toward the emerging nations.

Foolish thoughts for 2012
Deere is firing on all cylinders and is well poised to grow bigger. Dividend lovers will also give a (green) thumbs-up to the company, as it raised its quarterly dividend twice last year (Deere currently yields 1.9%). Though Deere's debt burden might be a bit high for comfort, its solid cash balances of $3.7 billion and modest dividend payout ratio offer a good margin of safety. 

I was bullish on this industrial powerhouse last year, and have good reason to back it in 2012. If you're interested in following along to see how this story progresses, be sure to add Deere to your Watchlist.

Neha Chamaria does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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