Amid our deteriorating global economic scene, I'm amazed at the speed with which a number of stellar companies are heading south -- figuratively, of course. For instance, it was less than 60 days ago that the likes of Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), DuPont (NYSE:DD), and Boeing (NYSE:BA) seemed positioned at the center of the universe. Figuratively again.

Now, however, as the current earnings season is reaching a crescendo, it appears that even Caterpillar's September quarter net income has slipped from a year ago. The culprit -- wonder of wonders -- was the spreading global economic slowdown, which has failed to offset growth for the Illinois-based heavy equipment manufacturer in many emerging markets.

As recently as late August, the company announced that it would spend about $1 billion in emerging markets during the next three years. Included in the outlays would be a research-and-development center and factory expansion in China. At the time, CEO James Owens told us that Caterpillar had so many orders for heavy mining and power generation equipment in Asia that his company was sold out there into 2010.

But with economies or credit availability continuing to weaken in the U.S., Europe, and parts of Asia, Caterpillar's earnings fell by 6.4% in the most recent quarter, despite a 13% increase in sales and revenues. The per-share number for the quarter dipped by only a penny to $1.39.

Looking ahead, however, management is maintaining its outlook for 2008, including revenues above $50 billion, versus $45 billion in 2007. Its EPS prediction continues to be "about $6.00," up from $5.37 last year. Beyond that, the current revenue outlook for next year is for flatness with 2008. We'll receive more 2009 EPS guidance in January.

So what do we do with a solid international company that is experiencing the first vestiges of an earnings slowdown? For my money, there are three appropriate approaches here. First, keep in mind that Caterpillar's shares have already fallen from an approximately $86 52-week high to a close below $39 on Tuesday.

Secondly, we should remain cognizant that -- much like fellow equipment manufacturers Deere (NYSE:DE), Terex (NYSE:TEX), and Manitowoc (NYSE:MTW) -- a significant portion of the company's business ultimately is tied to economic strength and commodities prices. And thirdly, it seems that we should watch this big, high quality company very closely, but not commit our shekels to its shares until we see a brightening light on the economic horizon, especially in the U.S.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith has a John Deere t-shirt, but doesn't own a piece of heavy equipment or shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool owns shares of Terex. The Fool has a disclosure policy.