Monday's Stock Watch: Caterpillar and Apple

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

Following their worst week since June 2012, U.S. stocks are finding their footing this morning, with the S&P 500 and the narrower Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) up 0.05% and 0.21%, respectively, at 10:15 a.m. EST. Looking ahead this week, the Federal Reserve's rate-setting committee convenes for its two-day January meeting beginning Tuesday. It is expected to again scale back its monthly bond-buying program, this time from $75 billion to $65 billion. On the earnings front, Dow component and global construction bellwether Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) reported fourth-quarter results before today's market open, but the most heavily anticipated earnings will come from Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) , which reports after the close.

Caterpillar shareholders have not had much to cheer about for some time, but this morning's fourth-quarter results are adding some pep to their step -- shares are up 5.7% at 10:15 a.m. EST. Amid a slump in global mining activity, no one expected revenue growth per se (Caterpillar hasn't produced year-on-year quarterly revenue growth since the third quarter of 2012), but the construction and mining equipment manufacturer did manage to solidly beat Wall Street's revenue forecast -- $14.4 billion against $13.6 billion. Earnings per share of $1.54 were also well above the $1.28 consensus estimate.

Better yet, Caterpillar's revenue and earnings-per-share guidance for 2014 of $56 billion and $5.85, respectively, are (slightly) above Wall Street estimates. Finally, the company authorized a new $10 billion share repurchase program, as it expects to complete the existing $7.5 billion authorization with $1.7 billion in buybacks in this quarter (having bought back $2 billion worth of stock in 2013).

If the shares are selling at a discount to their intrinsic value, I'm not against a company buying back its own stock, but Caterpillar's situation is representative of a wider predicament for the S&P 500: Companies are goosing earnings per share via share repurchases rather than investing in growth because they don't perceive there is sufficient demand. Indeed, Caterpillar expects capital expenditures for 2014 to be "slightly lower" than the $2.6 billion it spent in 2013, which, in turn, was significantly lower than the $3.4 billion spent for 2012.

Nevertheless, for a stock that has trailed the S&P 500 over the trailing one-, five-, and 10-year periods, today's outperformance must be a welcome sight for investors.

And speaking of growth demand, all eyes will be on Cupertino, Calif., this afternoon, as the world's most valuable company, Apple, reports its fiscal first-quarter results. This is the first full quarter since Apple inked its deal with China Mobile, the world's largest mobile carrier. Analysts and investors will surely be looking to see what sort of boost the agreement has produced for iPhone sales in China.

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