Caterpillar’s Earnings Future Has Legs

Fourth-quarter earnings were strong for heavy-equipment maker Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT). And according to the company, sales won’t be slowing down this year.

Caterpillar, the worldwide leader in earth-moving machinery sales, reported a 60% year-over-year rise in fourth quarter earnings today. 2011 sales were a shade more than $60 billion. This year, sales are expected to increase anywhere from 13% to 20%, to between $68 billion and $72 billion.

Those projections would be even higher if it weren’t for the company’s $29.8 billion backlog of orders. Even for a company that’s accustomed to doing some heavy lifting, such a substantial backlog exceeds its production capacity.

Shares of Caterpillar jumped more than 2% after the earnings announcement, closing at $111.31 today – the stock’s highest point in six months. But don’t expect the stock to stop there.

The company is seeing impressive sales growth in emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil, where demand for Caterpillar’s is rising as those countries add to their rapidly expanding infrastructure.

Plus, after striking a deal to buy mining-equipment company Bucyrus International last July, Caterpillar should begin to reap the benefits of its expanded mining inventory. The boom in commodities such as gold, copper and coal make that a potentially lucrative new area of growth for the company.

In the U.S., where sales make up 32% of Caterpillar’s revenue, the company expects construction spending to grow 3% in 2012. That’s a vast improvement from last March, when construction spending reached its lowest level since October 1999.

So while Caterpillar’s past quarter was promising, the company’s future looks even brighter.  

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