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Reason to Worry Ahead of Caterpillar Earnings

Jon C. Ogg

Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) earnings are coming out on Thursday, and the expectations have to be far better than they were in quarters past. There are just a few problems to worry about -- China, Brazil and other growth markets have not exactly been that robust of late.

Until recently, Caterpillar was one of the poorest performing Dow Jones Industrial Average stocks. Then came the bottom fishers and value buyers, and now Caterpillar's share price of $103.85 compares to a 52-week range of $80.86 to $104.62. Be advised that the 52-week high was hit on Wednesday.

Another concern is that the share price appreciation has been so high that the consensus analyst price target is now below the current share price at $101.61.

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Earnings expectations for the heavy equipment and industrial player are $1.24 earnings per share (EPS) and revenue of $13.14 billion, according to Thomson Reuters. To put the business in perspective, this would be down from $1.31 EPS a year ago, and that consensus revenue estimate is down 0.5% year over year.

For the second quarter, Thomson Reuters has a consensus estimate of $1.54 EPS and $14.5 billion in revenue (still down almost 2% in expected sales). Consensus estimates for all of 2014 are $5.93 in earnings per share (up from $5.79 in 2013) and $56.3 billion in revenue (up 1%).

Now that shares have risen so much, Caterpillar trades at 17.3 times expected 2014 earnings estimates. Also, Caterpillar pays a dividend of 2.3%.

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Keep in mind that the most recent SEC filing showed that Caterpillar's machinery sales were down 12% from a year ago. Caterpillar shares were up almost 16% year to date as of mid-day on Wednesday.

Simply meeting expectations likely will not be good enough to support the strong gains already seen so far in 2014.

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