With sales down by $11 billion, earnings plummeting by 44 percent year-on-year, and the loss of around 13,000 in its workforce, Caterpillar Inc. must be happy to see 2013 come to an end. But the mining machinery manufacturer will probably see more of the same in 2014.
Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman has already indicated that any expansion in the near term is highly unlikely and the company has already reduced its full-year forecast. The sales forecast does fare much better after a 12 percent decline for the three months ending November 2013. Weakness across the industry will stifle demand for Caterpillar products until 2015 at the latest, according to industry insiders. In addition, further job losses are expected.
"The third quarter was hideous, the fourth quarter will stink, and the guidance for 2014 is very, very subdued," said Brian Langenberg of Langenberg research firm.
The poor performance comes after the boom a few years ago when mining companies opened a lot of new sites and produced a huge amount of product, driving business for major suppliers and mine operators, like Caterpillar, particularly in emerging countries such as China. But in 2010 many more companies jumped in, saturated the market, and drove prices to such a low level that it quickly became apparent that the capital expenditure could not be justified. Essentially, companies had misread the market and overspent. Since then, Caterpillar has been trying to recoup its losses, namely by slashing jobs.
While the global economy is likely to expand faster in 2014 than it did in 2013, a soft mining sector means more bad news for Caterpillar. Growth in its construction equipment business will offset some of the losses from the ailing mining equipment sector.