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Caterpillar shares slump on sales warning as machinery demand cools

Published 04/25/2024, 06:44 AM
Updated 04/25/2024, 02:17 PM
© Reuters. A Caterpillar excavator is displayed at the China Coal and Mining Expo 2013 in Beijing, China October 22, 2013.  REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo
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By Deborah Mary Sophia

(Reuters) -Caterpillar on Thursday warned of a sales drop in the current quarter as volumes take a hit from dealers tightening equipment inventories, sparking worries that a months-long boom in machinery demand may be coming to an end.

Shares of the global economy bellwether slumped 7% in morning trade as it said end-user sales of its machines was weaker than planned. The stock had gained about 23% for the year so far as of Wednesday's close and hit a record high earlier in April.

Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) reported weak construction equipment sales in all regions except North America, where construction demand is expected to stay healthy for the rest of the year thanks to the U.S. government's $1 trillion infrastructure law.

Still, that was not enough to offset a slump in demand in Europe and prolonged weakness in China, where economic uncertainties have weakened construction activity, prompting a cutback in production of certain machines.

"We've been pretty disciplined about making sure that we have cut production like, for example, in excavators ... where we do see softness in the market," Caterpillar CFO Andrew Bonfield said.

Sales at Caterpillar's construction equipment business, which makes its ubiquitous yellow excavators, fell 5% in the first quarter, while its segment that caters to natural resources industries reported a sales decline of 7%.

"I do think we have to kind of re-evaluate and think through what execution would look like. (Machines sales) came in a bit weaker and that doesn't give me great confidence as we head through the year ... we definitely are walking away with more questions," M Science senior analyst Alex Prudhomme said.

The Texas-based company forecast roughly flat sales for the year.

Still, Caterpillar is banking on higher prices and flattening manufacturing costs to pad margins in the second quarter. Its first-quarter adjusted profit of $5.60 per share surpassed estimates of $5.14, according to LSEG data.

DEALER INVENTORY CONCERNS GROW

Coming off of a strong 2023 where supply chain concerns and soaring demand prompted dealers to bulk up on heavy equipment, U.S. machinery makers are now seeing a moderation in product stocking at dealers, forcing them to tighten their inventories.

Caterpillar said dealer inventories for machines grew a higher-than-expected $1.1 billion in the quarter due to sales to end-users being "modestly lower" than it had anticipated.

Its order backlog increased just $400 million on a sequential basis, but executives said they were confident that end-market demand would be stable this year.

"Dealer inventory is comfortably within what we consider a typical range, so we are not concerned about it," CEO Jim Umpleby told analysts on a post-earnings call.

© Reuters. A Caterpillar excavator is displayed at the China Coal and Mining Expo 2013 in Beijing, China October 22, 2013.  REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

Still, with investors zeroing in on dealer inventories, Caterpillar's results dragged shares of its rivals Deere (NYSE:DE) and CNH Industrial (NYSE:CNHI) down more than 1% on Thursday.

For the first quarter ended March 31, Caterpillar's revenue fell slightly to $15.80 billion, missing estimates of $16.04 billion.

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