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Is Caterpillar Still Great?

By Rich Duprey - Nov 6, 2012 at 12:21PM

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This company sits in sight of being among the pantheon of truly great investments.

For every stock out there screaming "buy me," others simply give us a nudge and a nod. While all the attention might be focused on their five-star peers, we can sift through Motley Fool CAPS to find four-star stocks giving us the "high sign" that they're on the path to greatness. 

These opportunities -- including familiar names and beaten-down companies -- rank higher than most of the other 5,400 rated companies, and it pays to investigate their potential. This time out we'll take a look heavy equipment maker Caterpillar ( CAT 1.59% ), perhaps a less obvious source for tomorrow's great buys.

Caterpillar snapshot

Market Cap

$56.7 billion

Revenues (TTM)

$67.0 billion

1-Year Stock Return


Return on Investment


Estimated 5-Year EPS Growth


Dividend and Yield


Recent Price


CAPS Rating



Of course, just because the 180,000-member CAPS community has chosen this stock as one being on the road to greatness doesn't mean you should buy in too. Due diligence is still required, but let's see why they think it might merit your attention.

In the sight of greatness
Investors hope China's cycle of economic intervention props up the mining and metals industries, because failure will likely ripple outwards to other economies. Caterpillar's third-quarter results indicate the stimulus spending already invested in the market is not having any lasting impact, as it experienced declining sales on the mainland though they were compensated for by growth in Australia.

Heavy equipment manufacturers like Joy Global ( JOY ) aren't expected to report robust numbers, not after Caterpillar reined in revenue and earnings growth expectations, and not after CNH Global (NYSE: CNH) watched quarterly sales in its construction equipment segment tumble 21% as Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region got caught in a downdraft. Joy Global is closely tied to the mining sector, as is Caterpillar, and the slowing growth cycle for miners will weigh heavily on performance.

Right now the best prospects for growth seem centered on domestic opportunities where sales of equipment and machinery rose 9% in the third quarter, though it was in resources and not construction where the greatest gains were made. But that's likely to be constrained as well because CAT warned that dealers report having too much inventory on hand. Deere ( DE 1.93% ) can't be thrilled with that outlook because, while it's the world's largest farming equipment maker, it also produces construction and earth-moving equipment.

In a cocoon
Caterpillar derives almost two-thirds of its revenues from international markets and the global economic strains are showing. It lowered sales guidance to $66 billion from a range of $68 billion-$70 billion, specifically citing weak global economic conditions. Per-share profits will now be between $9 and $9.25 compared to the $9.60 per share midpoint it previously guided to.

Because of its global reach and its concentration in construction and mining, Caterpillar feels the effects of the global recession as harshly, if not more so, than its peers. Joy Global, for example, only generates a third of its revenues from international markets. In contrast, while more than 70% of Terex's (NYSE: TEX) revenues are realized from global sources, it's not tied to the mining industry, but rather to cranes, like Manitowoc (NYSE: MTW). Those still appear to be in high demand, as Manitowoc has said it expects a 14% rise in revenues next year.

I wouldn't look to the slight uptick in China's PMI just yet as a sign that the coast is clear. Caterpillar, at nine times earnings estimates, isn't offering any discount to any of its peers, both those with mining-facing operations or those in less-exposed industries. Over the long haul, Caterpillar will recover but I'd prefer a bit more of a bargain on the stock.

As a result I'm going to hold off on rating Caterpillar to outperform the broad market averages on CAPS, believing it has several quarters yet to go before we see signs of a turnaround making a difference. But tell me in the comments box below whether you think Caterpillar will be able to outrun the market.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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Stocks Mentioned

Caterpillar Inc. Stock Quote
Caterpillar Inc.
$204.49 (1.59%) $3.21
Joy Global Inc. Stock Quote
Joy Global Inc.
Deere & Company Stock Quote
Deere & Company
$361.34 (1.93%) $6.83
Terex Corporation Stock Quote
Terex Corporation
$45.94 (4.36%) $1.92
The Manitowoc Company, Inc. Stock Quote
The Manitowoc Company, Inc.
$19.98 (2.04%) $0.40

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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