Caterpillar Q4 Sales Miss, Tumble 23%; Guidance Obliterated

As we do every quarter, just before CAT announces its result, we show the monthly retail sales for the heavy industrial conglomerate, and in the month of December things went from really bad to even worse, when the company reported what in our estimate was the worst month since the financial crisis, with global retail sales matching the worst annual decline this decade, while the duration of the sales contraction is now unprecedented in company history.


Today, CAT confirmed the flow through from this depressed picture when it announced that not only did revenue tumble by 23% to $11 billion, but it missed already deeply cut estimates of $11.4 billion, leading to a 111% collapse in operating profit which from $1.1 billion turned into a $114 million loss in the quarter. To be sure, the company tried to pull an Alcoa and stuff massive restructuring charges in the quarter amounting to $689, boosting non-GAAP EPS by $0.89 to $0.74, however one can simply ignore this latest accounting fudge attempt.

Then there was the topic of ongoing inventory liquidation:

Inventory declined about $1.45 billion during the fourth quarter of 2015. For the full year, inventory decreased about $2.5 billion. "Caterpillar inventory declined $1.45 billion during the fourth quarter of 2015, compared to a decline of about $1.1 billion during the fourth quarter of 2014.  A fourth-quarter decrease is not unusual, as some of our businesses ship long lead-time capital goods in the fourth quarter.  For the full year of 2015, Caterpillar inventory declined about $2.5 billion. While we believe our inventory levels are not excessive, we are anticipating that lower sales and our ongoing Lean initiatives will result in some reduction in inventory in 2016."

Expect much more GDP-reducing inventory liquidation in the months ahead.

The 2015 summary via the CEO:

This past year was a difficult one for many of the industries and customers we serve.  Sales and revenues for 2015 were nearly 15 percent lower than 2014 and 29 percent off the 2012 peak.  The two most significant reasons for the decline from 2014 were weakening economic growth and substantially lower commodity prices.  The impact of weak economic growth was most pronounced in developing countries, such as China and Brazil.  Lower oil prices had a substantial negative impact on the portion of Energy & Transportation that supports oil drilling and well servicing, where new order rates in 2015 were down close to 90 percent from 2014.


"We anticipated about $5 billion of the $8 billion sales and revenues decline in our January 2015 outlook as we started the year.  Actual sales and revenues were about $3 billion below that $50 billion outlook because of steeper than expected declines in oil prices, a stronger U.S. dollar, weaker construction equipment sales and lower than expected mining-related sales in Resource Industries," added Oberhelman.

Who is to blame? Why China... and the strong dollar of course:

In Asia/Pacific, the sales decline was primarily due to lower sales in China and India and the unfavorable impact of currency.  The most significant decline was in China, a result of continued weak residential and nonresidential construction activity.  The unfavorable impact of currency was primarily due to the weaker Japanese yen and Australian dollar. 

But where things get really messy was the company's guidance which was absolutely obliterated, and saw CAT slashing its 2016 revenue projection cut from the $45.5 billion forecast as recently as last October to a range of $40-$44, or a $42 billion midpoint, a cut of nearly nearly 8 in just three months! This is what the company said:

The outlook for 2016 sales and revenues does not anticipate improvement in world economic growth or commodity prices.  Sales and revenues are expected to be in a range of $40 to $44 billion – a mid-point of $42 billion.  The mid-point of the range reflects a decline of about $3.5 billion from last October's preliminary outlook for 2016 sales and revenues and a year-over-year decline of about 10 percent.  The decrease from last October's preliminary outlook is largely a result of continued declines in commodity prices and economic weakness in developing countries. 

Some additional color from CEO Oberhelman:

"Our outlook reflects struggling oil and other commodity markets, and continued economic weakness in developing countries.  While the U.S. and European economies are showing signs of stability, the global economy remains under pressure.  While we manage through these difficult economic times with substantial restructuring actions to lower costs, we are also preparing for the long term.  We are continuing substantial investments in R&D and our digital capabilities.  These investments will be positive for Caterpillar and our customers through connected fleets and jobsites and access to data and predictive analytics.  Investing in the future is important to improving productivity and the bottom line – for Caterpillar and our customers over the long term.  While it is tough to predict when an economic recovery will happen, the investments we are making and the actions we are taking to lower our cost structure and improve quality and our market position will help deliver better results when a recovery comes," said Oberhelman.

Good luck.