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Dominant Dow staples General Electric (NYSE: GE ) and Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) have made the right moves to capitalize on the booming Australian and Chinese mining sectors. These two American icons aren't looking to reap the benefits there, however: It's Southeast Asia's rise that's the prize.
The region's growing economies, led by the core six countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand, have sailed through the recession with flying colors. The region boasts a population of nearly 600 million and a gross domestic product larger than India's. This has sparked an infrastructure boom to meet the demands of growing societies. Such investment requires raw materials, and GE and Caterpillar have gone to great lengths to win their pieces of the action.
Let's take a look at how these two companies' overseas strategies can turn a profit for investor portfolios.
GE invades the Pacific
GE has recently made key moves to strengthen its position in the $61 billion mining equipment industry. The company purchased Australian mining equipment provider Industrea Limited for just under $720 million, boosting its profile in a nation poised to reign as one of the 21st century's top mining centers.
GE furthermore signed a joint venture with Chinese state-owned coal producer Shenhua Group. The move increases its investment in the lucrative coal mining sector, which fuels 70% of China's burgeoning energy demands.
The company expects 8% growth year over year through 2020 for the mining equipment industry. GE's two main equipment customers, miners BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) and Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO ) , have suffered through a disappointing year so far. However, the pair should bounce back with rebounding commodity prices and continued Southeast Asian growth. With material suppliers from Australia and China in the geographic neighborhood, GE shareholders can feel confident about strong returns from the region's gains.
Not to be outdone, Caterpillar increased its own investment in Australian and Chinese mining equipment sectors. The company's $886 million purchase of Chinese equipment manufacturer ERA Mining Machinery expands its presence in the high-growth nation. The move puts Caterpillar in direct competition with Joy Global (NYSE: JOY ) and GE for a piece of the Chinese coal market and China's five-year, $840 billion pledge to future energy investment.
Caterpillar has also kept pace with GE in Australia. The company expanded focus on its dealers in the mineral-rich nation, increasing its position significantly after last year's $8.8 billion purchase of major mining equipment manufacturer Bucyrus. The Chinese government's cost overrun of more than $5 billion in Australian iron mining investments has further opened the door for Caterpillar and other American corporations to cement their foothold in lucrative Australia.
Mining for profits
Wall Street analysts have gone doom and gloom on the mining industry with the recent nosedive of commodity prices, exacerbated by the declining fortunes of miners like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. While Caterpillar has indeed seen U.S. demand for mining equipment slow, international growth has offset domestic losses. Australia's mining boom of recent years "provides the fuel" for the Asian growth machine, as GE's Australia executive succinctly put it.
Southeast Asia's success story sparked the mining windfall. The region climbed back from the depths of the 2008 recession quickly, recovering precrisis growth rates within two years. The six leading nations of the region boasted an average GDP growth rate of more than 6% between 2003 and 2007, which climbed past 7% in 2010. For the period between 2011 and 2015, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates 6% average GDP growth, a number that beats the growth rates of ballyhooed Brazil, Russia, and India.
This rise ignited a surge of public infrastructure investment, with a collective $20 billion in regional programs underway or in development. GE and Caterpillar plan to reap the rewards of this bountiful market and ride a train of profits for the long haul.
Why settle for just one?
Caterpillar and GE may battle for the right to fuel the Asian boom, but heady investors can reap all the rewards of the mining equipment manufacturing fight. Both companies offer excellent financials for shareholders and return solid dividends exceeding 2%. GE sports better traditional financial metrics and outperforming margins, but neither company will keep investors up at night. Ultimately, GE and Caterpillar are solid long-term plays made even stronger by their investments in the Southeast Asian growth story.
GE certainly got hit hard by the recent financial crisis, but management took advantage of the market's dip to make strategic bets in energy. If you're a GE investor, you need to understand how these bets could drive this company to become the world's infrastructure leader. At the same time, you should be aware of the threats to GE's portfolio. To help, we're offering comprehensive coverage for investors in a premium report on General Electric, in which our industrials analyst breaks down GE's multiple businesses. You'll find reasons to buy or sell GE, and you'll receive continuing updates as major events unfold during the year. To get started, click here now.