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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Caterpillar ( CAT) will give its first specific 2011 profit guidance when it reports fourth-quarter results Thursday, and investors are expecting the big industrial bellwether to light up the business world with its outlook, buoyed by a commodities boom and rapid sales of its mining equipment.

Bullish sentiment surrounding Caterpillar and its prospects for this year have driven the company's share price to a succession of 52-week highs. The stock, which has outperformed the broader market substantially (see above), has come back slightly from its peak, reached Jan. 18, of $96.80. On Wednesday morning, CAT shares were changing hands at $95.55 on the New York Stock Exchange, up a little more than 1% from the previous session.

As for the final period of 2010, Caterpillar already told Wall Street to expect $3.80 to $4 a share for the full year, on revenue of $41 billion to $42 billion. And, given the company's recent conservative guidance -- some would call it purposefully, consciously conservative -- most industry observers feel Caterpillar will continue its string of earning-target beats.

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According to a survey of sell-side analysts by Thompson Reuters, Caterpillar's fourth-quarter profit will likely come to $1.27 a share, on revenue of $11.6 billion. The ranges are a little wide, though. For the company's bottom line, the estimates go as low as $1.19 and as high as $1.38. For the top line, targets range from $10.7 billion to $12.06 billion.

No, it's 2011 that everyone's interested in. When it reported third quarter results in October, Caterpillar gave the world a preliminary view of how it thought 2011 might develop, predicting revenue for the full year "approaching $50 billion." If that forecast turns out to be deadeye, it will put the company's top line at close to record levels. Caterpillar's best year ever came in 2008, when it posted revenue of $51.3 billion.

The forecast split the analyst community into camps: Those who felt the number was aggressive, and those who believed it was too conservative. The former camp pointed out that $50 billion would be near record revenue despite a home economy still struggling. The latter camp pointed out that the company's run-rate in the second half of 2010 suggested 2011 revenue well beyond $50 billion.

Analysts and investors, therefore, are looking for a little more clarity from the company's managers Thursday on the precise components of its forecast for 2011.

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