Caterpillar Inc , the world's largest maker of construction and mining equipment, reported stronger-than-expected quarterly earnings on Wednesday and said it was seeing encouraging signs that economies around the world were rebounding.

The company reported a fourth-quarter net profit of $232 million, or 36 cents a share, down from $661 million, or $1.08 a share, a year earlier.

Sales fell 39 percent to $7.9 billion.

Stripping out costs associated with the company's restructuring, which involved the elimination of nearly 25,000 jobs worldwide, Caterpillar said it earned 41 cents a share.

On that basis, analysts, on average, expected the Peoria, Illinois-based company to report a profit of 28 cents a share, on sales of $8.11 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Caterpillar, which has described the downturn in its business in 2009 as the worst since the Great Depression, said it expects 2010 sales to rise 10 percent to 25 percent. It forecast profit of $2.50 a share, up from $1.43 in 2009.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; editing by John Wallace)