Can Investors Expect a Caterpillar 2016 Repeat in 2017?

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Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) closed out 2016 at $92.74, for a dividend-adjusted total return of 42%. Just over half the gains were made in the second half of the year, and if you saw the earlier part of 2016 you might wonder how on earth Caterpillar ended up as the Dow’s top stock. The pro-infrastructure trading in the post-election rally took Caterpillar shares up 9.5% from the adjusted trading close on November 8. While the gains were solid, the reality is that Caterpillar’s peak close was on ‎December ‎7‎, ‎2016, at a share price of $97.33.

You already have heard just how crazy it feels that Caterpillar rose so much in 2016. What you probably have not heard is just how much the Wall Street analysts were behind the curve here. At the start of 2016, analysts were recovering from Caterpillar shares having lost 23% of their value in 2015. Also at the start of 2016, the consensus analyst price target from Thomson Reuters was just $68.19, and that means the expected total return for Caterpillar was set to be just 4.9%, if you included its dividend yield of 4.5% at the time.

Some of the problems in 2015 persisted for much or all of 2016. Still, commodity markets recovered, even though every major growth economy in the world outside of the United States has been running at subpar growth. The strong dollar has weighed and will continue to weigh on Caterpillar’s ability to export at a time when fewer nations and companies want heavy equipment like this. Caterpillar gave some muted guidance, even after Trump predicted hundreds of billions of dollars heading into major infrastructure.

Another issue to watch is that Caterpillar’s major monthly sales data continue to look atrocious. That may change in 2017, but perhaps because the comparisons in 2016 were down too much versus 2015.

And as of January 1, Cat has a new CEO, and several other new top executives also were appointed in late December.

What also should be considered is that Caterpillar was once projected to rise to well over $100 per share in 2015. The analyst community has remained well under the actual growth in the stock, and now analysts who get positive are having to expect major earnings bumps in 2018 from infrastructure and GDP recoveries around the globe.

Caterpillar is valued at 28 times a blended 2016 to 2017 earnings projection, but the earnings growth recovery for 2018 and 2019 is expected to be strong enough for it to be valued at 21 times (for 2018) and 15 times (for 2019).

Caterpillar made it into the 2017 Dogs of the Dow due to its yield. This comes with upside ahead to the dividend potentially, but we would point out that Moody’s downgraded Caterpillar’s credit metrics in December, even knowing that the infrastructure spending boost was coming.

Caterpillar has a 52-week trading range of $56.36 to $97.40 and a market cap of $54 billion. Its dividend yield is 3.3%.