We at The Motley Fool are becoming accustomed to writing positively about corporations, only to have those same companies head for the nearest ditch as their conditions suddenly deteriorate.

Most recently, it was Manitowoc (NYSE:MTW) -- primarily a maker of large cranes used around the world by many industries -- that raised the caution flag. Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) and Deere (NYSE:DE) have both been there, although they appear to be recovering their sea legs of late.

It wasn't all that long ago that Manitowoc was cooking along, chalking up powerful earnings. But no longer. With cranes accounting for about 85% of the company's revenue, and with business having suffered a severe six- to nine-month slide in demand -- based largely on project cancellations -- its fate has tumbled.

Earnings for the first quarter are now expected to be, at best, half the $0.21 that had been estimated. Earlier, the company forecasted full-year earnings of $1.35 to $1.60 a share, but current events have probably shaved that range substantially -- management will no longer specify a target.  

At the same time, Manitowoc indicated that its sale price for its Enodis ice machine operations would be $160 million, rather than the $200 million that had been anticipated. And it's going to have to take a $30 million charge to reduce the value down to that level. As indicated a week ago, the unit is being sold to Warburg Pincus. The proceeds will be used to reduce debt, most of which was brought on by the $2.7 billion purchase of Enodis, a British maker of kitchen equipment. (Perhaps there's a Fool out there who can explain to me the logic and synergies of a crane manufacturer owning a kitchen equipment maker.)

As the company also indicated, the sale price difference may ultimately lead to a violation of its debt covenants. Nevertheless, management stated that it expects to work with the lender group and possibly to be granted covenant relief.

Manitowoc sits among a group of generally solid industrial companies, most of which have been smacked by the market. In that group I'd include Dover (NYSE:DOV), an industrial products maker that has seen its shares price plummet, along with Terex (NYSE:TEX), a capital equipment manufacturer, and Illinois Tool Works (NYSW; ITW), also an industrial equipment maker.  

As for your investment approach to Manitowoc, the word "buy" probably shouldn't be a part of your conversation at the moment. The next few quarters are going to be rough, and there are better places for your money at the moment.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own a single share of any of the companies mentioned above. He does welcome your comments and questions. The Fool owns shares of Terex and has an ironclad disclosure policy.