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Caterpillar Slips as Sales Drop Again

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Caterpillar Inc.'s (CAT - Free Report) shares slipped 1.2% to close at $82.68 on Nov 20 as it announced a 12% decline in global retail sales for the three months ending Oct 2013. The drop was dangerously close to the year’s lowest drop of 13% that was registered in February. With this, the construction and mining equipment behemoth reported its eleventh consecutive month of sales decline. Sales dropped across all regions.

Prior to this, Caterpillar had witnessed a 20-month stretch of negative sales from Sep 2008 to Apr 2010 due to the global recession. In May 2010, the company reverted to positive sales growth and there was no looking back as sales growth picked up riding on the wave of strong equipment demand both domestically as well as in the emerging markets.

However, the sales growth started declining in Dec 2012, affected by tougher year-earlier comparisons, rising inventories of unsold equipment, weak economic conditions, and slowing down of the Chinese economy, which had otherwise been the main driver of construction and mining demand.

As mentioned earlier, so far in 2013, Caterpillar had fared the worst in February with a decline of 13%. Since then, the narrower decline of 7% in May sparked some hopes, but it was short-lived as the sales graph again started trending downward.

In October, Caterpillar witnessed declines across all regions barring. Even North America, Caterpillar’s largest market in terms of geography which had registered positive growth in the past two months, disappointed with a 2% dip.

Sales in Latin America dropped 8% in October. The region had enjoyed a 10-month stint of positive growth which abruptly ended in Jul 2013. Growth rate had escalated to 28% in April this year as demand for construction and infrastructure projects had spurred equipment demand in Brazil, as it prepares for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. However, civil unrest in Brazil have been affecting sales in the region lately.

Asia dragged down overall results with a 26% decline and sales in Europe, Africa, the Middle East (EAME) were at its worst in 2013 with a 14% drop. Sales in the region had dipped in single digits till June. Sales in ROW (Rest of the World) dipped 17%.

Reciprocating & Turbine Engine Retail sales dipped 9% year over year globally, hitting a trough in 2013. Sales to the industrial markets increased 16%, the only bright spot in the sales report. Sales to transportation and electric power markets plunged 27% and 21%, respectively. The petroleum market however recorded flat sales.

Caterpillar's results in the first nine months of 2013 has been disappointing as revenues dipped 17% year over year to $41.2 billion, primarily due to reduced mining demand and decline in inventory.

Even though sales in the fourth quarter is expected to be slightly higher than in the third quarter, earnings per share may be lower due to higher costs resulting from seasonal spending patterns. The company also expects another substantial decline in dealer inventories in the fourth quarter. Caterpillar has trimmed its fiscal 2013 guidance for three quarters in a row. For fiscal 2013, Caterpillar now projects sales of $55 billion and earnings of $5.50 per share in 2013.

The recovery in the U.S. construction sector is expected to provide a much needed boost to Caterpillar’s revenues. However, declining backlog, recent weakness in the emerging markets, and negative impact of the European debt crisis could weigh on Caterpillar’s growth and operating performance over the next several quarters. In such a scenario, Caterpillar is looking to curtail costs and get rid of some hindrances by resorting to temporary layoffs, shutting down or shifting operations.

Caterpillar currently retains a Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell). Stocks in the industrial products sector with a favorable Zacks Rank are Xylem Inc. (XYL - Free Report) with a Zacks Rank  #1, and Alamo Group, Inc. (ALG - Free Report) and H&E Equipment Services Inc. (HEES - Free Report) , each with a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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