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The Caterpillar logo outside a company building David McNew, Getty Images

Caterpillar's Biggest Miss in at Least 10 Years Spreads Gloom

Shares plunged in pre-market trade.

Caterpillar Inc. had the biggest quarterly profit miss in a decade as a China slowdown hit demand for its signature yellow construction and mining equipment.

The Deerfield, Illinois-based company also issued a 2019 profit forecast range which, at the low end, was below the average of analysts’ expectations, adding to worries over mounting trade tensions that pummeled the heavy-equipment maker’s shares last year.

Caterpillar, an economic bellwether, adds to gloom on growth after corporate executives joined the International Monetary Fund last week in warning the global economy is slowing faster than expected. Caterpillar shares fell more than 5% in pre-market trading, which would be the biggest decline this year.

The shares plunged in the fourth quarter amid concern that weaker commodity prices, signs of slowing in China and risks to the European economy posed a threat to demand.

“The retail sales for Asia-Pacific did show a decline in December, but this is on the back of two strong years,’’ Chief Financial Officer Andrew Bonfield said by phone. “However, when we look out into our guidance for 2019 we expect total excavator sales to be about flat year-on-year’’ in China.

“China represents between 5% and 10% of our total revenue, so it’s relatively small. North America is obviously the major market."

The company said it expects 2019 profit in a range of $11.75 to $12.75 per share. The average estimate among 28 analysts was for adjusted profit of $12.72 a share, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Its fourth-quarter profit result was $2.55 per share, about 15 percent below estimates, the biggest miss since the fourth quarter of 2008.

“Our outlook assumes a modest sales increase based on the fundamentals of our diverse end markets as well as the macroeconomic and geopolitical environment,” Chief Executive Officer Jim Umpleby said in a statement Monday.

Shares tumbled 5.8% to $128.90 at 8:37 a.m. in New York.

By Joe Deaux

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