Tough times ahead

PROFIT down, sales down, revenues down and things look like getting better in a hurry. That is the view from Caterpillar’s third quarter results.
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No immediate respite from the tough times Caterpillar and the general mining equipment supply market are facing.

Noel Dyson

The company’s third quarter profit per share was US62c, down from $1.63 a share in the third quarter of 2014. Operating profit for the quarter was $713 million, down $679 million year-on-year.

This profit fall was primarily due to lower sales volumes, mirroring the weak market conditions in most of the industries Caterpillar serves.

Total sales and revenues were $10.9 billion for the quarter, compared with $13.5 billion year-on-year. That is a drop of 19%, or $2.6 billion.

Caterpillar blames some of this on the unfavourable impact of a strengthening US dollar but also points to the general malaise blighting most industries it serves.

At the start of the year Caterpillar reckoned its sales and revenues would be $50 billion. That was revised down to $49 billion in July and then to $48 billion in September. The company is sticking by the $48 billion sales and revenue expectation – sort of. It says with one quarter to go it will likely “end the year within a per cent or two of the ‘about $48 billion’ outlook, with $48 billion the likely top end”.

Caterpillar has revised its 2015 outlook to include about $800 million in restructuring costs – up from its previous $250 million estimate.

Asia-Pacific sales fell 25%, mostly due to lower end-user demand for mining equipment, products used in oil and gas applications and construction equipment.

The impact of currency was unfavourable as sales, mostly in Australian dollars and Japanese yen, translated into fewer US dollars.

Sales fell 31% in Latin America and 13% in the Europe, Africa and Middle East region.

While the stronger US dollar had a negative impact on sales, it had a favourable impact on operating profit because Caterpillar has a number of manufacturing facilities outside the US.

The majority of favourable impact for the quarter was due to the Japanese yen, because Caterpillar is a net exporter from Japan.

The Resource Industries’ segment incurred a $68 million loss, a marked turnaround from the $122 million profit it booked a year ago. This change was largely due to lower sales and higher spending for new product introductions, which in turn was offset by favourable warranty, lower incentive compensation expenses and improved materials costs.

Resource Industries’ sales were down 15% year-on-year to $1.8 billion.

Sales were down for both new equipment and aftermarket parts.

Commodity prices have stayed weak and miners are concentrating on improving productivity in existing mines and reducing their total capital spending – as they have for the past few years.

Manufacturing costs were favourable due to a lower incentive compensation expense and improved material costs. This was partially offset by the unfavourable impact of cost absorption and manufacturing inefficiencies driven by declining production volumes.

The unfavourable cost absorption came from a significant decrease in inventory in the third quarter of 2015, compared to the same period last year.

Selling, general and administrative and research and development expenses were favourable due to lower incentive compensation expenses, partially offset by new product introduction programs.

Restructuring costs related to the Resource Industries’ segment and other restructuring programs across the company totalled $101 million.

Caterpillar’s full-time global workforce fell to 108,922 at the end of the quarter, down from the 114,352 a year ago. That number will fall further as the company’s already announced restructuring programs take effect.

The company announced last month that it would be looking to reduce its salaried and management workforce, including agency, by 4000-5000 people by the end of 2016, with the bulk of that occurring in 2015. So far more than 2000 of its US employees have opted for its voluntary retirement program. There are several “voluntary separation” programs running outside the US too.

Caterpillar chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman said Caterpillar’s focus was on how it operated.

“We’re tackling costs and our year-to-date decremental profit pull through has been better than our target,” he said.

“We’re also focusing on our global market position, and it continues to improve even in challenging end markets.

“Our product quality is in great shape and our safety record is among the best of any industrial company today.”

Oberhelman said Caterpillar’s strong balance sheet was a blessing in such tough times.

“Our Machinery, Engineering & Transportation debt-to-capital ratio is near the middle of our target range at 37.4%,” he said.

“We have about $6 billion of cash and our captive finance company is healthy and strong. We’ve repurchased close to $2 billion of stock in 2015 and more than $8 billion over the past three years.

“In addition the dividend, which is a priority for our use of cash, has increased 83% since 2009.”

On October 14 Caterpillar announced it would be maintaining its dividend rate at 77c a share of common stock.