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Is Caterpillar Digging Itself a Deeper Hole?

Rich Duprey
April 8, 2013

Just days after announcing cuts of up to 300 employees at its South Milwaukee facility that it acquired from Bucyrus, heavy-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) laid off 460 workers at its Decatur, Ill., plant, again citing mining industry weakness. The Decatur plant is a manufacturing facility that runs a foundry, overhaul, and remanufacturing, and where the South Milwaukee layoffs have been deemed temporary, these are said to be permanent. All told, the company wants to eliminate about 2,000 jobs.

A deep hole
Caterpillar identifies coal, iron ore, gold, copper, and oil and natural gas as primary users of its equipment, so it's easy to see why the equipment maker is taking it on the chin. Mining companies are abandoning the coal industry in droves.

Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO) recently announced its intention to sell off its Australian coal assets while also seeking "strategic alternatives" for its copper and gold mines. Despite global financial turmoil, gold is incongruously slipping as a safe haven, as billionaire investor George Soros recently pointed out.

While I see that as a temporary response to the currency destruction being engineered by central bankers -- people only have their gold to sell to get cash, so it's depressing the price -- BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP) is also looking to strip away things it now considers unessential to its main operations, and it has idled a number of coal mines and is looking to shed oil and gas assets because they're deemed the easiest to get rid of. Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF) is idling iron pellet facilities because of weakness in the steel industry.