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Machinery giant Caterpillar (CAT) reported solid first-quarter 2010 operating results, and investors bid up the stock on the news. Though sales of $8.24 billion for the period did not quite meet our expectation of $8.5 billion, and they fell short of the $9.2 billion mark reached a year earlier, this was a nice improvement over the $7.9 billion scored in the final quarter of 2009. Overall, global orders continued to gather strength, on a year-to-year basis, after notable weakness last year. Margins also improved, thanks to previous, aggressive cost-containment actions. March-quarter share net was a strong $0.36, even with a $0.14 U.S. healthcare legislation charge factored in. Our estimate was $0.27. A $0.17-a-share loss was reported a year earlier.

Looking ahead, management raised its outlook for 2010, citing still-expanding Asian and Latin American economies and active energy and mining sectors. It now looks bring in between $38 billion to $42 billion in revenues. That compares to its previous expected range of $35.6 billion to 40.5 billion. Accordingly, the company also raised its expectations for share earnings, which are now likely to be in the $2.50 to $3.25 range, a 15% increase from the previous guidance. Management estimates include the above-mentioned healthcare-related charge.