Why Haven't Caterpillar's Wings Fluttered?

Caterpillar's fiscal third quarter results released last week did not make for good reading. The company noted revenue and income declines across all divisions. In addition, the company reported that it was revising its full-year profit forecast down by $1 per share to $5.50, from $6.50 previously. What's more, the company reported that revenues from its resource industries division, which is principally engaged in the manufacture of mining equipment, collapsed 75% year-on-year. 

Unfortunately, Caterpillar has reported a pickup in mining sector activity during the past few months, but this has not translated into an increase in demand for the company's equipment. That said, Caterpillar's reported order backlog for the end of the third quarter remained constant at $19.1 billion. This was similar, to the figure reported at the end of the second quarter as a rise in construction equipment orders offset weakness within the resource industries sector .

Still, weakness within the mining sector is expected to continue for the next few years as rising costs and falling commodity prices pressure miners. Indeed, according to data released by Macquarie Commodities' Research at the beginning of this year, mining capital spending, or CapEx, is expected to decline 20% during the year . Macquarie also expects further CapEx cuts during 2014 and 2015, before a slight recovery during 2016.

Actually, mining CapEx is declining faster than originally thought. In particular, during 2012 JPMorgan analysts predicted that global mining CapEx would decline 14% from a high of $136 billion during 2012, to $117 million annually by 2014. However, global mining CapEx is estimated to be around $100 billion this year, a 26% decline already .

No escape
Caterpillar is lucky as the company is able to offset declining CapEx in the mining sector with increased sales to the construction sector. Joy Global is not so lucky. Within the company's fiscal third quarter results, Joy reported a 36% decline in new-order bookings. What's more, the company's order backlog declined 27% from the previous quarter as Joy worked through existing orders.

Joy produces equipment mainly designed for coal mining, and with multi-billion dollar coal projects being shelved thanks to soft coal prices, it doesn't look as if there will be any let-up for Joy's declining earnings anytime soon. Indeed, according to GlencoreXstrata, the world's largest thermal coal exporter, 30% of seaborne thermal coal production is cash-cost negative. This has caused the company to shelve its $7 billion Wandoan coal project in Queensland, Australia .

Having said all of that, I feel that Joy has made the right choice by authorizing a $1 billion stock repurchase program within its fiscal third quarter results. Poor mining forecasts have pressured Joy's share price, which should enable the company to buyback more stock with its authorization, ultimately increasing the company's performance in the future .

Getting off lightly
One company that is not feeling the pinch to the same degree as Joy is Swedish engineering group, Sandvik . Sandvik recently reported a stronger than expected fiscal third quarter. Net profit beat expectations by 5%, and the company reported that order intake was down only 7%, with mining order intake down around 9%.

Surprisingly, Sandvik's order backlog for its mining equipment declined less than that of both Joy and Caterpillar, which indicates that the company is in a better position to ride out the collapse in mining CapEx than its peers . That said, Sandvik has other problems, namely the strong Swedish Kronor and rising metals prices, which hit operating profit to the tune of 250 million and 90 million kronor respectively during the fiscal third quarter, this was roughly 14% of quarterly operating profit .

Foolish summary
So overall, capital spending within the mining sector is declining rapidly and faster than originally thought. However, Caterpillar and Sandvik are well placed to ride out this decline. Joy on the other hand is not so lucky and the company is really suffering. That said, Joy's management has taken the prudent decision to buy back stock while interest rates are low and this should boost future earnings.

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The article Why Haven't Caterpillar's Wings Fluttered? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Rupert Hargreaves owns shares of Caterpillar and Joy Global. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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