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Caterpillar CEO Miffed Despite Lights-Out Quarter

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It sometimes seems that, with the equities markets operative from Monday through Friday, and with a steady stream of news and opinions being fired our way, the best time for investors to calmly come to grips with the status of specific companies is during the relative leisure of the weekend.

A spectacular, unhappy quarter
Take the world's biggest equipment manufacturer, Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) , for instance. As last week neared its end, the company reported a stellar quarter, including net income of $1.55 billion, which blew past the prior year's comparable number by 60%. On top of that, its $2.32 on the per-share line made mincemeat of the $1.47 for the fourth quarter of 2010, while dramatically exceeding the analysts' consensus of $1.76 a share, a beat that might have inclined us to ask why the Wall Street dart throwers bother. The company clearly was in terrific shape.

But it had become clear by Saturday morning that CEO Doug Oberhelman wasn't entirely thrilled. Oh, he couldn't have been more elated about his company's performance. But, as was indicated by an interview repeated during Fox News' Saturday "Business Block," he was having difficulty digesting statements from President Obama's State of the Union address earlier in the week. Those comments indicated to Oberhelman, and likely a host of his peers, a lack of understanding of what expanding globalization really means for U.S. corporations.

Hardly a tax dodge
"Tonight, my message to business leaders is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed," the president had said. And then: "We should start with our tax code. Right now, companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas. Meanwhile, companies that choose to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and everyone know it. So let's change it."

To Oberhelman, however, in order to be in a position to sell his company's products in China or India, it's necessary for Caterpillar to build facilities and create jobs in those places.

His views were essentially backed by Fox business reporter Dagan McDowell, who opined that the president apparently wants a "wayback machine," since the key contribution from the U.S. to industry today takes the form of idea creation, rather than serving as the primary locus of manufacturing. Another of the program's panelists quipped that, "Anyone who thinks that jobs end up in various countries because of tax policy probably also believes that baldness is caused by tight hats."

Solid expectations lining up
Caterpillar, which serves as one of the market's bellwether indicators of economic vitality, was encouragingly joined on the day by Charlotte, N.C.-based steelmaker Nucor (NYSE: NUE  ) in producing surprisingly solid results. And further, another industrial giant, General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , had preceded it by predicting even stronger results for 2012.

Even in the face of economic softness in southern Europe, the Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar benefited from strong sales in most geographic regions and from its purchase of mining equipment maker Bucyrus International, along with locomotive maker Electro-Motive Diesel and German engine maker Motoren-Werke Mannheim Holding GmbH. When all was said and done, the company's construction sales increased by 31%, resource sales -- largely meaning Bucyrus -- blasted 80% higher, and power systems revenues expanded by 22%.

But finding itself capacity constrained and unable to deliver some products in a timely manner, according to the company's director of investor relations, Mike DeWalt, "We have invested in Caterpillar factories in the United States and around the world to increase production. Despite those increases ... we are expecting capex to be up about 50% and near $4 billion" for 2012. He added that "we're still very tight on many products and are currently quoting extended delivery times on some of them." Somehow those don't appear to be moves made for tax purposes.  

A fabulous Foolish conclusion
Speaking of 2012, the company has raised the midpoint of its revenue expectation by about $3 billion for the year, to a range of $68 billion to $72 billion. Its forecast of $9.25 in per-share earnings would exceed 2011's results by a healthy 25%.

I'll be looking for earnings reports from two more big equipment manufacturers -- Amsterdam-based CNH Global, which will check in Tuesday, and Deere & Co., which is a couple of weeks away -- as further indications of strong global equipment demand. The industrials sector has shown remarkable strength in 2012 and I think Fools should consider adding shares of Caterpillar to their portfolios. In addition, our chief investment officer has identified seven outperformers to watch during earnings season. You'll find additional insight on these rock-solid companies in a brand-new special free report. It's completely free for our readers, so access yours today.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't have financial interests in any of the companies named above. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Nucor. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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David Smith

A longtime securities analyst and multiple-term member of The Wall Street Journal's All-Star Research team, Dave specializes in energy and natural resources.

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5/3/2016 4:00 PM
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