Market bellwether Caterpillar tumbles amid Permian slowdown


NEW YORK - Caterpillar Inc. shares fell after the heavy-equipment maker projected 2019 earnings at the low end of its forecast amid rising costs, declining sales in Asia and a slowdown in oil and gas spending in the prolific Permian Basin.

The company reiterated that per-share profit this year will be $12.06 to $13.06, and it “expects to be at the lower end of this outlook range,” according to a statement Wednesday. Revenue in the second quarter rose 3% from a year earlier to $14.4 billion. Adjusted profit missed analysts’ estimates.

Caterpillar expects to sell more products with lower margins, and has reduced expectations for revenue coming from the Permian Basin, Chief Financial Officer Andrew Bonfield said in an interview. At the same time, the company hasn’t changed its view on the global economy, including China, he said.

“Underlying demand remains strong,” Bonfield said. “Sales to users remains strong.”

The results from Caterpillar, considered an economic bellwether, come amid a slowdown in manufacturing and simmering trade tensions that helped prompt a cut this week in the International Monetary Fund’s global growth forecast. The company has been trying to raise prices at a time when analysts say some end-user industries may be reaching peaks in their growth cycles. Sales growth at Caterpillar dealerships was the slowest in two years in June.

While there had been some optimism on North American demand and dealer inventory reports, the results are “a bit of a warning shot moving forward for heavy machinery and capital spending in general,” Larry De Maria, an analyst at William Blair & Co., said by phone. “The key moving forward for CAT is whether interest-rate cuts in the U.S. can provide more stimulus for activity and whether the trade war recedes to create a better spending environment. Otherwise, we’re stuck in neutral at best.”

Shares tumbled 6.6% to $129.06 at 9:37 a.m. in New York.

“The increase in manufacturing costs was primarily due to higher material costs, including tariffs, variable labor and burden and warranty expense,” Caterpillar said in the statement Wednesday.

Caterpillar’s rivals in China continue to inflict pain on the company. Sales in Asia construction industries fell, in part due to competitive pricing pressures.

Caterpillar’s “goal is profitable growth," and the company is unwilling to chase prices in China lower, CFO Bonfield said.

“Asia deteriorated a lot,” said Karen Ubelhart, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, referring to June retail dealer sales. “It’s China.”

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