Weakness Showing Among Heavy Equipment Businesses

Heavy Equipment BusinessesOne sector where there is continuing weakness is in farm and mining equipment sales. With farm incomes down from last year, large agricultural equipment is not selling as it was comparatively. And weak metal prices aren’t helping sales in the mining sector, either.

Deere & Company (DE) just reported its financial results for its fiscal fourth quarter and fiscal year (ended October 31, 2014).

The company reported a five-percent drop in global sales to $8.97 billion in its fourth quarter. Sales in the U.S. and Canada decreased a substantial 10%. Outside of North America, sales fell a more modest two percent over the same quarter last year.

The company’s earnings also took a hit, dropping to $488 million from $650 million last year. Deere’s outlook isn’t so rosy either, as management predicts equipment sales will be down about 15% in fiscal 2015 and a substantial 21% comparatively in its fiscal first quarter of 2015.

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The company’s share price is fairly valued; the stock has been struggling to do anything the last four years.

There are a lot of headwinds in the heavy equipment business due to agriculture incomes and the substantial breakdown in spending on mining equipment.

Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) is faring better on the stock market than Deere. The company actually surprised the Street by posting a decent third quarter with slight revenue growth and a gain in earnings per share due to job cuts.

Both companies offer dividends and are yielding just less than three percent.

With the mining industry in the doldrums due to weaker spot prices, precious metal producers have no momentum on the stock market and the sector is worth staying away from, even though there are very attractive valuations at a number of companies.

Joy Global Inc. (JOY) is a well-known mining services company out of Milwaukee. This business has been struggling to grow due to the slowdown in the global mining industry.

Producers have not only been plagued by lower spot prices, but they’re also being burdened with higher costs, which is a double whammy for the bottom line.

Many of the best-managed gold producers now have all-in sustaining cash costs per ounce of just less than the current spot prices. Profitability has been going down for a number of quarters.

Caterpillar, in particular, is a company that’s worth keeping on your radar. (See “Eight Stocks to Beat the Street.”) Even if you’re not interested in this stock, what the company reports about its business conditions is useful information.

The company expects 2015 to be pretty much flat with this year. Management actually increased its full-year 2014 earnings guidance due to its recent restructuring efforts, which surprised the Street.

Caterpillar has been able to keep investors interested in its stock. The company increased its dividend 17% so far this year, and it repurchased approximately $4.2 billion of its own shares.

Having said that, with substantial sales attributable to the mining industry, I would say Caterpillar shares or those of Deere & Co. are risky at this time. Precious metal producers are going to stay under pressure, even if spot prices stay flat at current levels. The cycle does not favor this industry currently, so tread lightly and consider taking some cash off the table if you are invested in the sector.