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Last week was a rough one for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) , and Monday looked like it might continue that trend before the index a modest 0.33% in midafternoon trading. The S&P 500 is also up, while the Nasdaq remains mired in the red. The markets have been trending downward over the last week due to a mix of concerns. Emerging market strains, anxiety over tapering by the Federal Reserve, and weak manufacturing data from China have caused a small pullback from investors. In addition, new home sales dropped 7% in December from November levels; although it should be noted sales were still up 4.5% year over year and are still at the highest level since 2008. With those concerns in mind, one large Dow component is doing its part to bring the blue-chip index higher.
Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) was trading nearly 6% higher just before 3 p.m. EST. "We expected there would be a decline in mining sales in 2013, and it turned out to be worse than we anticipated," Reuters quoted CEO Doug Oberhelman as saying in prepared comments. "As a result, we took substantial actions to reduce costs which helped mitigate the impact on profit."
By the numbers, 2013 saw a weaker performance than 2012. However, the company's workforce reductions; reduced costs in sales general and administration, research and development; and lowered inventory paid off with better than expected profitability in the fourth quarter. Caterpillar's fourth-quarter earnings per share came in at $1.54, which was well ahead of the previous year's fourth-quarter mark of $1.04 and analyst estimates of $1.28 per share.
Despite management expecting a similarly rough 2014, there are some silver linings for Caterpillar investors. First, even amid a rough market with economic headwinds and weak demand, the company was able to increase its quarterly dividend 15% in 2013, along with repurchasing $2 billion of common stock. Second, the company's effort to shore up costs and trim inventory enabled its manufacturing and power systems to set a record for operating cash flow in 2013 at $9 billion; Caterpillar ended the year with $6.1 billion in cash. Third, the company trimmed its debt-to-capital ratio by almost 8 percentage points to 29.7% -- its lowest rate in 25 years.
Outside of the Dow, Ford's (NYSE: F ) Focus continues to be the best-selling vehicle nameplate in the world, according to the company's analysis of Polk global vehicle registration data. While Toyota may dispute these claims, as some of its vehicle sales are tallied under different model names in different regions, you can't deny that the Focus is improving its sales globally.
With strong growth in China, global Focus registrations from January through September 2013 grew to more than 850,000 -- a 16.1% increase over the first nine months of 2012.
"Our success with Focus serving more and more customers around the world underscores the strength of our One Ford plan," said Jim Farley, Ford executive vice president of global marketing, sales and service and Lincoln, in a press release. "We remain absolutely committed to developing a full family of vehicles that, like Focus, offer outstanding quality, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and value."
Investors will be watching closely as Ford reports its fourth-quarter earnings tomorrow. It will be key to see if surging sales of its most profitable products, its F-Series pickups, can outweigh losses in Europe. Ford has beaten expectations six of the last seven quarters, and met expectations once.
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