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Investors are looking for stocks that going to be among the first to participate in the recovery of the economy. Some of the early signs that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter is when we see heavy machinery company's grow revenue and earnings.

Let's take a look at three of the top heavy machinery companies in the world. We will start with industrial machine and heavy vehicle company Caterpillar Inc. Then we will head to the farm and look at how Deere has done lately and we can wrap things up with Titan Machinery.

Caterpillar Inc.

Caterpillar Inc. (CAT - Analyst Report) manufactures and sells construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives worldwide. It big machinery for big business and it has the revenues to prove it.

Caterpillar Inc. had revenues of more than $60 billion in 2011, up 41% from the $42.5 billion in 2010. The 2010 revenue was also a healthy increase of 31% from the 2009 depressed revenue number of $32.4 billion which was 37% lower than the 2008 level due to the global recession.

Over the last several quarters, CAT has seen an excellent pattern of increasing earnings. Just as important as increasing estimates is the idea of not disappointing Wall Street. In six of the last seven quarter, CAT has topped the Zacks Consensus Estimate by an average of 18%. Those beats, however, did not translate into big moves for the stock, or at least on the day immediately following the report. The average move in the stock price was a loss of less than one quarter of one percent.

Caterpillar Inc. - ticker CAT>
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It should also be noted that CAT pays a $0.46 per share quarterly dividend. That works out to be about 1.75% yield on the stock. The company also has shown a pattern of increasing its dividend, with payment of $0.42 per quarter in 2009 increasing in July of 2010 to $0.44 per quarter and up to the current level in July of 2011. The increase in earnings, higher earnings estimates and consistent beats makes Caterpillar Inc. a Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy).

Deere

Deere (DE - Analyst Report) provides products and services primarily for agriculture and forestry worldwide. Its Agriculture and Turf segment manufactures and distributes a line of farm and turf equipment and related service parts, which include large, medium, and utility tractors, loaders, combines, corn pickers, cotton and sugarcane harvesters, and related equipment.

Deere is also one the bigger companies in the heavy machinery segment, and it’s too has massive revenues. $32 billion in 2011 sales were 23% ahead of the $26 billion the company posted in 2010. The company also saw growth of 13% in 2010, due to the depressed revenues in the global recession of 2009.

Earnings growth is a different story for DE as opposed to CAT. The last three quarters have seen consecutive negative earnings growth, something investors usually don't want to see. The chart below really tells the story of why the stock is lower by more than 15% over the past year. Lower earnings almost always translates into lower stock prices.

Deere. - ticker DE>
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Like CAT, DE pays a dividend of $0.46 per share, but because of the lower stock price, the yield is slightly higher at 2.25%. The company also has a history of increasing the dividend, but not with a discernible pattern. Deere paid quarterly dividends of $0.28 for eight quarters before bumping it up to $0.30 in 2010 for two quarters and then to $0.35 for two more quarters. The three previous quarters saw a dividend of $0.41 per share. While Deere has not reported below the Zacks Consensus Estimate, it has seen lower earnings and lower earnings estimates. This has contributed to the Zacks #3 Rank (Hold).

Titan Machinery

Titan Machinery (TITN - Snapshot Report) is the smallest company of this group, but sometime being nimble can be a big benefit. TITN was recently written up as a Value Rank Buy.

Unlike its much larger counterparts, TITN saw revenue growth despite the global recession in 2009. That should make some take notice, but the story keeps getting better as its growth rate has increased in each of the last three years. Revenues are still relatively low in comparison at $1.6 billion for 2011, but that was 52% ahead of the 2010 level of $1.1 billion.

The earnings picture for TITN is a little different than what we saw in CAT and in DE. With the last two quarters showing impressive growth, the consistency aspect that CAT has is not here. The growth however has translated into an impressive run for the stock price. Over the last six months the stock has moved higher by more than 50% easily making it the best performer of the group.

Titan Machinery - ticker TITN>
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Due to the higher earnings and the pattern of strong earnings surprises, Titan Machinery is a Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy).

Caterpillar Inc. - ticker CAT>
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Brian Bolan is the Aggressive Growth Stock Strategist for Zacks.com. He is also the Editor in charge of the Zacks Home Run Investor service You can follow him at twitter.com/bbolan1

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