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Caterpillar sees '17 profit below expectations as restructuring continues

CAT machines are seen on a lot at Milton CAT in North Reading, Massachusetts January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

By Mark Weinraub

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N), the world's largest construction and equipment maker, forecast 2017 profit sharply below analysts' estimates, hurt by sluggish demand in the construction and energy industries.

Peoria, Illinois,-based Caterpillar has already slashed its workforce by more than 16,000 to cope with a slumping economy and said it would take another $500 million in restructuring costs in 2017 at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is calling on manufacturers to expand employment.

Hopes for a rebound in the manufacturing sector amid Trump's call to spend $1 trillion over 10 years on building infrastructure have fueled a rally in the company's stock. Caterpillar's shares have surged about 15 percent since the election, even as the company has sought to temper market expectations about its outlook.

The company's stock price eased 66 cents to $97.48 on Thursday morning after peaking at $98.98, the highest since Dec. 5, 2014, early in the session.

Caterpillar lowered the midpoint of its 2017 revenue outlook by $500 million to $37.5 billion, citing the negative impact of a strong U.S. dollar. Based on the revenue view, it forecast adjusted earnings per share of $2.90 for 2017, compared with analysts' average estimate of $3.04, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"While we see signs of positive activity in some of our key end markets, the overall economic environment remains challenging," Chief Executive Jim Umpleby said in a statement on Thursday.

Caterpillar cut 12,300 jobs in 2016, including 7,700 in the United States. It said it was considering closing two more major production facilities, including one in Aurora, Illinois.

The company said a glut of used construction equipment in North America would continue to hurt sales in 2017, while sales in Africa and the Middle East would remain soft due to the regions' reliance on oil revenue. Low traffic volume in its rail business and a significant number of idle locomotives were weighing on its transportation business, while weakness in shipbuilding would hurt marine-related sales, the company said.

The company's loss ballooned to $1.17 billion, or $2.00 per share, in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, from $94 million, or 16 cents per share, a year earlier.

But the company posted an adjusted fourth-quarter profit of 83 cents per share, which excludes $1.019 billion in restructuring costs as well as other charges. That topped analysts' average estimate of 66 cents.

Fourth-quarter net sales fell 13.2 percent to $9.57 billion.

(This version of the story corrects EPS outlook in paragraph five)

(Additional reporting by Rachit Vats in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Nick Zieminski)