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Three Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) companies reported earnings today, and two of these companies painted a very different future of where the world economy is headed. While investors might not have taken great notice of Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) jumping 2% while AT&T (NYSE: T ) fell 2.5% -- both relatively large increases for established blue chips, but by no means earth-shattering – their results paint a picture that increasingly shows the haves and the have-nots in the Dow.
Let's start with the haves
Caterpillar reported a revenue jump of 35% over last year while earnings soared 60%. Yet the growth doesn't stop there. In 2012, Caterpillar's earnings are expected to take another 25% leap. The key idea behind Caterpillar's growth is that it's global. On the company's forecast, Caterpillar forecast global growth to be 3.3%. That figure includes a -- rather bullish -- take that the United States would see economic growth of 3%. However, the more important driver is Asia's projected growth rate of 6.5%. Caterpillar saw a 49% sales jump in its Asia-Pacific region, its highest sales gain in any region.
Moving on to the have-nots
Caterpillar's huge sales jump contrasts nicely with the quarter AT&T just wrapped up. The mobile giant bragged about its "strong gains," but even after beating its quarterly record for smartphones sales by a mammoth 50%, total sales edged up just 3.6%. Worse yet, 82% of all sales of phones on contracts are now smartphones. While that figure might be applauded, smartphone customers subscribe to valuable data services; it also shows that AT&T's ability to keep growing wireless revenues through data is starting to hit a saturation point. Pretty soon, everyone who's willing to shell out the money to buy a smartphone will have already bought one.
As a contrast, as of July 2011 only 4% of consumers in China had data plans on their mobile devices, but the growth rate that data services were being adopted at in the country was running at more than 150%.
Global growth versus no growth
The point of all this is to show that blue-chip American companies with established brands overseas have a growth profile that far exceeds their America-centric peers. As markets like China, India, and Brazil continue to grow at outsized rates in coming years, the disparity only gets greater. More importantly, as consumers in these markets hit a tipping point where they have enough discretionary money to afford brand-heavy luxuries like Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) , the earnings growth rates of these companies can far outstrip the already heady GDP growth rates that range from 5%-10% in many of these emerging markets.
That's why strong global companies like Caterpillar are the most "trusted" bets to be the best Dow stock for the next decade. While the Dow has traditionally been a set of best-in-class American companies, its next evolution is best-in-class global companies. Although Caterpillar might trade at a much steeper multiple than AT&T, I'll take a pricier company with a decade ahead of compounded 10% growth versus one with a decade of compounded no growth. I think your investing dollar should be seeking out the same opportunities.
One more opportunity
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