Caterpillar Offers a Warning About Emerging Markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  )  was down 19 points in late trading after two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down over a rebel-controlled region of the nation, less than a week after the downing of a passenger airliner in the area.

Markets have thus far brushed off rising tensions between the West and Russia, which has backed Ukrainian separatists, but that may not last long the way things are going.

In market news today, there were some concerning numbers out of Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) , which has fallen off its pedestal as Dow leader in 2014 and was down 1.4% today.

Bad numbers from Caterpillar
Every month, Caterpillar reports industry and regional sales numbers over the past three months of operations. As a supplier of heavy equipment, the company can often offer an indication of where capital spending is headed around the world and where companies and countries are expecting growth.

That ability to peek into the future is why the numbers out of Asia-Pacific and even Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, or EAME, are so startling. Below are the retail sales growth figures for Caterpillar's two main industrial segments and three major regions for the three months ending in June.  

 

Resource Industries

Construction Industries

North America

+9%

+16%

Asia/Pacific

-53%

-17%

EAME

-51%

-5%

Source: Caterpillar.

You can see that Asia-Pacific demand is dropping like a rock, which continues a trend we've seen all year. Resource industry sales have been down over 50% for every three-month period in 2014, and EAME sales have been trending lower as well (for year-to-date details, click here).

Fewer sales of equipment like this could mean slower growth in Asia. Source: Caterpillar.

A warning for investors
Why is this bad for the market as a whole? If capital spending is falling in emerging markets, less money is being invested in future growth. That's a problem because these regions have been among the few bright spots over the past seven years, and now it appears that the tide has turned and North America is the most stable and highest-growth market.

Keep an eye on growth in China, particularly as we go through earnings season. Reduced investments in resources and construction in the region could suggest a slowdown in the making, and that could do more to negatively impact the market than tensions with Russia.

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