Vroom, vroom. What's that rumble-rumble rumblin' through the ground? Feels like heavy-equipment maker Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), trundling onto Wall Street tomorrow morning with a payload of Q1 2007 earnings.

After the news comes out, we'll have time a-plenty to dissect it. But in these few hours before we begin obsessing over Caterpillar's short-term progress, let's take a moment to review what investors think about it as a long-term investment. Our tool in this endeavor: Motley Fool CAPS, where we poll more than 27,000 investors for their views on 4,000-plus companies, Caterpillar among them. Here's what Fools have to say about the company.

Up or down?
More than 1,300 CAPS investors have submitted opinions on the company. The verdict: Purrrr.

A full 94% of CAPS investors think Cat will outperform the market, an impressive figure that only rises as you dig down for the opinions of the very best investors -- our CAPS "All-Stars," who favor the company by 96-to-4. Little wonder, then, that under the CAPS rating system, Cat merits four out of five stars possible.

Within the much-loved construction machinery group, however, Caterpillar actually gets less love than many of its peers.

Construction Machinery Group

CAPS Rating

Kubota (NYSE:KUB)


Manitowoc (NYSE:MTW)






Deere (NYSE:DE)


Agco (NYSE:AG)


Wall Street vs. Main Street
Meanwhile, over on Wall Street, where the professional analysts dwell, the love buzz for Cat fades. Wall Street wizards favor the firm with just eight buy ratings to two sells, for an 80% favorable rating. Little surprise there. These fair-weather friends may be upset that the stock has underperformed the S&P 500 by a full 24 percentage points over the past 52 weeks.

Brass tacks
And what are the thoughts behind these ratings?

Bull pitch
Bulls are Cat people (ponder that image for a moment) for several reasons. Chief among them are strong hunches that the recent boom in commodities is far from over, and that "shovel sellers" like Cat will profit from the riches their customers extract from the earth, not to mention the usual arguments about "China is a huge market, yada, yada, yada." Also attractive is the very thing that's giving short-term-focused Wall Street hives: Cat's stock has been underperforming lately and trades with a below-market price-to-earnings ratio.

Bear pitch
You can probably recite these off the top of your head: There's the worry that ethanol will replace oil as the fuel of the future (a worry that's bunk, in my view). There's the fear that a recession will push this cyclical manufacturer into a down cycle (that one has some merit.) And of course, there's the corollary argument that if housing is slowing down, so, too, will be sales of heavy equipment used in the housing industry. (Yep. That's one rings true, as well.)

Who said that?
To learn the identities of the wise Fools who penned these thoughts, and to explore the plethora of additional financial data we've put together on the company, just click here.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked 234th out of more than 27,000 raters. The Fool has a disclosure policy.