Caterpillar misses estimate, shares drop 6 pct

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People visit heavy machinery of Caterpillar at Bauma China in Shanghai. Reuters

(Reuters) – Caterpillar Inc yesterday reported quarterly profit that widely missed Wall Street estimates, hurt by softening demand in China, a strong dollar, and higher manufacturing and freight costs, sending shares tumbling 6 percent.

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An increase in the provision for credit losses and write-offs in its financial products segment also cut into fourth-quarter earnings for the world’s largest heavy-duty equipment maker.

The company forecast 2019 adjusted profit of $11.75 to $12.75 per share, compared with the average analyst estimate of $12.73, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

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Chief Financial Officer Andrew Bonfield told Reuters that profits this year will be weighed down by a higher US tax rate.

Caterpillar, a bellwether for global economic activity, benefited in the past year from what the International Monetary Fund called the strongest global growth surge since 2010.

However, a tariff war between the United States and trade partners including China has exacerbated fears of a global slowdown.

Last week, the IMF cut its world economic growth forecasts, for a second time in three months, for 2019 and 2020. The downgrade came days after China, one of Caterpillar’s key markets, posted its slowest gross domestic product growth in nearly three decades.

China accounts for up to 10 percent of Caterpillar’s sales. But since it is one of the world’s largest commodities importers, China’s slowing economy can have a ripple effect on the company’s business, particularly on equipment sales to the mining and oil and gas industry.

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Volatile oil prices brought down Caterpillar’s order book in the last quarter by about $800 million from the September quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Caterpillar’s revenue increased across all of its regional businesses, with the largest rise in North America, its biggest market by value.

But sales in the construction business in Asia-Pacific declined on lower demand in China.

The company reported profit of $2.55 per share, well below the average analyst estimate of $2.99, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Total sales and revenue in the quarter rose 11 percent year on year to $14.34 billion.

The stock fell 6 percent to $128.71 in premarket trading. The shares slid 19.4 percent in 2018, compared with a 15 percent drop in S&P 500 index and a 5.6 percent decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

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