After Years Promoting Russian Trade, Geopolitics Could Cause Problems For Caterpillar

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Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) could face problems if political tensions between the United States and Russia affect trade. Caterpillar

American markets are feeling the jolt from geopolitical tensions in Russia and Ukraine, but companies like Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE:CAT) have even more to worry about.

After fighting for years to improve U.S. trade relations with Russia, and investing billions in the country, the huge industrial equipment maker from Peoria, Ill., could face problems if politics bleed into economics.  

On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States and other Western economic powers were ready to “isolate Russia economically,” if Putin doesn’t cease Russian interference in Ukraine.  

It could affect more than $38.2 billion worth of trade volume between Russia and the United States, mostly in mining, manufacturing and banking.

In just over a decade, Caterpillar has invested over $1 billion in the country.

CEO Doug Oberhelman testified in June 2012 that exports to Russia from the United States have nowhere to go but up, and touted his company’s future there.

“There is tremendous opportunity to increase U.S. exports to Russia,” he said, in an effort to convince the United States to offer Russia “Permanent Normal Trade Relations.”

“From Caterpillar’s perspective, Russia ranks among our top 10 export destinations,” he said, adding that he was optimistic about its burgeoning economy, growing population and demand for products.  

Richard Lanvin, Caterpillar’s Group president and chairman, said he was looking forward to future opportunities in the country, in a 2012 interview.

“We’re very optimistic about the growth prospects for Russia,” he added, citing Putin’s focus on infrastructure investment and overall growth. “We want to be involved in building the bridges, roads, ports and everything else that’s going on in the Russian Far East in the coming five, 10, 20 years.” 

Caterpillar also was the first foreign blue chip company to sell debt in rubles, according to Bloomberg. In December 2012, the company sold 5 billion rubles of notes set to mature in 2015.

“We never know what will happen with Russia and this always makes people nervous,” said Michael Morris, head of equities at Mitsubishi UFJ Asset Management in London, to Bloomberg

From a high on Feb. 21, Caterpillar stock has dropped 0.8 percent to hit $96.7 per share. The stock's also been pressured by news from a Feb. 27 Department of Commerce report that machinery sales dropped to $34.5 billion in January, the fifth month of a downward trend.

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