Caterpillar Inc. reported on Monday that it earned its best-ever first quarter profits and looked forward to better prospects for the rest of the year.

Fueled by an increased demand for its products against relatively flat raw material prices, the construction equipment and combustion engine giant dug up a record $840 million in first quarter profit for the January to March Period, or $1.20 a share, up 48 percent from the first quarter of 2005.

“I am very pleased with our performance in the first quarter, it’s a great beginning to the year,” Chairman and CEO of Caterpillar, Jim Owens said. “Our operating profit continues to improve.”

Revenue rose to $9.39 billion, up 13 percent from $8.34 billion last year on after raising prices during the second quarter of last year, and on higher demand volume than expected.

“Underlying business conditions and demand for our products continue to be strong,” Owens continues. “The fundamental strength of the industries we serve—notably global mining, infrastructure construction, oil and gas, and energy—continued to improve.”

Driven by the current demand of its equipment, and projected demand for housing construction, commercial development, and mining, Caterpillar raised its outlook for 2006 to $5.20 a share from $4.85 per share, and forecasted revenues of about $40 billion for the year.

Shares rose 68 cents to $78.55 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, approaching their 52-week high of $78.94, but finished the day at $77.38.