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Caterpillar's Sales Dip Again, But Management Has Plan to Improve Dealerships

By Daniel Miller – Mar 20, 2014 at 9:00AM

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It's been a rough patch for Caterpillar and sales continue to look bleak so far in 2014.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 1.26%) was up 107 points as of 2:30 p.m. EDT after economic data suggested the economy is rebounding from its weather-related slowdown before March. Initial unemployment claims last week rose 5,000 to 320,000, which remains near three-month lows. In addition, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said its business activity index jumped from -6.3 in February to an even 9 in March -- anything above zero indicates manufacturing expansion in the region. With those numbers in mind, here are a couple of companies making headlines today.

Caterpillar product floor. Source: Caterpillar.

Inside the Dow, Caterpillar (CAT 1.92%) is still struggling to find a silver lining in its dismal sales results. The company reported that worldwide sales of machinery, through its dealer network, declined 8% for the three months ended Feb. 28, compared to year-ago results. Breaking it down by region, Asia/Pacific and Latin America forced the results lower with sales drops of 17% and 16%, respectively. North America posted the only sales gain with a meager 2% increase. As mining customers have spent drastically less on equipment over the last couple of years, Caterpillar's resource industries sales continue to decline and were down a whopping 37% in the latest three months.

While things are certainly ugly in terms of sales, Caterpillar still has a strong dealer network that it aims to improve. The company earlier this month announced plans to change how it organizes dealerships and narrow the gap between its top and bottom performers. Caterpillar will focus on roughly 10 metrics; dealerships across the globe that underperform will be subject to a strategy discussion and development of a plan to bring performance up to a desired level. 

"This is not a plan to cull our dealers or drive consolidation -- although you can expect that some of that will occur," Caterpillar executive Stuart Levenick, who will manage the financial turnaround effort, told Reuters. "But we do expect results. If you are not aligned, if you're not progressing toward those results, then you can expect us to move judiciously to make changes. ... They all get that."

Caterpillar hopes to improve revenue at the dealer level by $9 billion to $18 billion over the next four years as it improves its worst-performing dealerships -- a huge improvement for the company and its investors.

In other industrial news, General Electric (GE 1.65%) agreed on Wednesday to build an industrial complex in partnership with Algeria's Sonelgaz. The $400 million complex is scheduled to begin manufacturing gas and steam turbines in 2017. The partnership stake will be split 51% to 49% in favor of Sonelgaz.

GE continues to expand its global presence which allows the company access to more information regarding emerging markets. Using this knowledge, the company has proven it can lower barriers of entry into new markets and create operating efficiencies across multiple businesses.

This is just the latest move by General Electric to put less emphasis on its GE Capital business and focus on the industrial and energy portfolios which should continue to drive company growth.

Daniel Miller has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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