Caterpillar Inc. (CAT - Get Report) shares traded lower Wednesday after analysts at Deutsche Bank cut their rating on the stock amid concerns the industrial equipment maker's order book could register negative growth over the near term as the global economy slows.
Deutsche Bank analyst Chad Dillard Dillard cut his rating on the shares to "hold" from "buy" with a $128 price target and said that if order backlog growth turns negative, it normally precedes a negative earnings revision cycle by around three months. That typically sees analysts trimming estimates by as much as 45%, triggering sharp share price declines, Dillard said.
"Synchronized global growth has collapsed, the China Land Cycle is rolling over (and will continue to weaken despite the single positive data point this week)," Dillard wrote. "Europe is slowing more than expected and the US is over-saturated with construction equipment."
Caterpillar shares were marked 1% lower at $138.74 each, a move that would trim the stock's year-to-date gain to around 9.5%.
Caterpillar's order backlog at the end of the fourth quarter was $16.5 billion, down $800 million from the previous three month period but up around $700 million from the end of 2017.
"About half the backlog decline in the quarter was related to large shipments for both recip engines and turbines," CFO Andrew Bonfield told investors in late January. "Another half resulted from the slowdown of orders to support oil and gas applications in light of recent oil price volatility."
Earlier this year, Caterpillar cast a pall over the busiest week of the fourth quarter earnings season when it posted weaker-than-expected profits and forecast a "modest" in increase in 2019 sales it linked to weakening demand in China.
Caterpillar also said it expects 2019 profit to increase to a range of $11.75 to $12.75 per share, compared to the Refinitiv consensus forecast of $12.73 per share, while the warning sent shares down more than 9%, the biggest single-day decline in nearly 10 years.
Caterpillar was also named as a potential target for European Union officials if President Donald Trump decides to impose tariffs on European automakers later this year, according to a recent report from Bloomberg.
In late February, UBS cut its rating on the industrial equipment maker to "sell" from "buy" and cautioned that revenue and earnings forecasts will be pressured in a slowing global economy. UBS argued that key revenue drivers for the Peoria, Illinois-based group, including construction markets in North America and China as well as oil and gas production, will peak in 2019.
That likely means earnings forecasts for 2020, which sit at a consensus of $13.27 per share and imply 8% year-on-year growth, are too high.
Caterpillar will publish its first quarter earnings on April 24.