CHRISTOPHER LEONARDST. LOUIS (AP) â¿¿ Heavy equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. said Friday its first-quarter profit soared more than five-fold and raised its financial outlook for the year as a growing economic recovery boosted demand for its mining and construction equipment. The results blew past analysts' expectations and its shares rose $2.72, or 2.4 percent, to $115.36 in midday trading. Caterpillar's earnings are a bellwether for the global economy, as it sells the kind of kind of expensive, heavy machinery used for construction, mining and logging. Its first-quarter profit reflects an industrial sector that is growing again, with most of its sales growth coming from the sale of big machines. When the recession hit in 2007, construction and mining companies cut back their spending on heavy machinery first, Mike DeWalt, Caterpillar's director of investors told analysts Friday. For more than two years, companies held back their investment. But now they appear to have no choice but to replace aging machinery, boosting Caterpillar's sales, DeWalt said. That means spending will likely continue as companies replace more vehicles and even expand on growing demand. "Let's be clear: This is not some kind of bubble," DeWalt said. "We believe (companies are) essentially buying enough to keep their fleets from continuing to degrade." The Peoria, Ill., based company said its net income climbed to a record $1.23 billion, or $1.84 per share, for the quarter ended March 31. That's up from $233 million, or 36 cents per share, a year ago. Revenue rose 57 percent to $12.95 billion from $8.24 billion a year ago. Analysts had expected earnings of $1.30 a share on revenue of $11.43 billion. Revenue at Caterpillar's machinery and power systems division surged to $12.29 billion from $7.55 billion during the same period last year. Based on its higher-than-expected sales, Caterpillar boosted its 2011 outlook, forecasting revenue between $52 to $54 billion and net income between $6.25 and $6.75 per share. It previously forecast revenue above $50 billion and net income of roughly $6 per share. The company said its projection does not include its recent acquisitions of MWM Holding GmbH or Bucyrus International, Inc. because the deals haven't closed yet.
Caterpillar said its outlook would have been higher if not for the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which damaged many of its suppliers. Supply disruptions and delays will likely cost the company $300 million on lost sales and $100 million in lost profit.Still, the underlying economics look good for future profit increases at Caterpillar, said Bill Selesky, an analyst with Argus Research. As global demand increases, mining, construction and timber companies should all need to buy more equipment. "You have a big, multinational company with a global footprint all around the world seeing greater demand," Selesky said. "That gives me hope that we're dealing with a growing economic recovery that hopefully is sustainable and that will get better as time goes by."