Caterpillar Makes First Visit to Dow’s Cellar

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Industrial giant Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) had a poor week despite posting second-quarter earnings and revenues that beat expectations and raising its profit forecast for the full year. Shares lost 2.84% last week to sink the heavy equipment maker into the unenviable rank as the worst-performing Dow Jones industrial average stock for the year to date. Its stock has dropped 12.1% this year.

The second-worst Dow stock so far this year is 3M Co. (NYSE: MMM), which is down 11.9%. That is followed by Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG), down 10.4%, Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT), down 9.3%, and McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD), down 9.2%. Of the 30 Dow stocks, 14 are showing a loss to date in 2018.

The blue-chip index added just over 11 points last week to close at 25,462.58, so basically flat compared to the previous Friday’s close. The Dow closed up less than 1% for the second quarter but down 1.8% for the first six months of 2018. For the year to date, the index is up 2.6%, trailing both the S&P 500 (up 5.4%) and the Nasdaq Composite (up 11.5%).

What analysts and investors focused on in Caterpillar’s earnings report were rising costs due to the Trump tariffs and the company’s somewhat cavalier response to climbing costs. It said it expects to raise prices to offset most of the $100 million to $200 million tariff charges the company anticipates.

That’s encouraging, but what if customers balk? On the company’s conference call the interim chief financial officer noted that Caterpillar’s business with China “continues to be strong,” but that could change in a heartbeat.

Analysts at Barclays certainly weren’t sanguine. The firm downgraded Caterpillar’s shares from Equal Weight to Underweight and chopped the price target from $170 to $155. Barron’s cites Barclays analyst Adam Seiden who argued that rising costs, even if offset by higher prices, limits margin growth for the second half of the year. For Seiden to regain some enthusiasm for Caterpillar, he’d need to see a lasting boost to oil prices, more new mining projects or more action in the power-generation market. In our view, none of these is terribly likely.

Caterpillar stock closed at $138.51 on Friday, up about 0.4% for the day, in a 52-week trading range of $112.69 to $173.24. The 12-month consensus price target on the stock is $169.96.