April 28, 2020 / 11:09 AM / in 3 months

UPDATE 3-Caterpillar earnings dive as coronavirus wreaks economic havoc

(Adds comments from earnings conference call, updates share price)

By Rajesh Kumar Singh

CHICAGO, April 28 (Reuters) - Caterpillar Inc on Tuesday reported a steeper-than-expected decline in first-quarter earnings, with sales falling across all regions and all primary business segments as the coronavirus pandemic devastated economies around the world. The Deerfield, Illinois-based heavy equipment manufacturer, considered a bellwether for economic activity, said the financial fallout of the health crisis in the quarter through June will be worse than the previous quarter.

Chief Executive Officer Jim Umpleby said the impact has been "significantly more severe and chaotic" than any cyclical downturn. Caterpillar did not provide a 2020 financial outlook after rescinding the previous forecast last month.

"The ultimate impact of the pandemic on our 2020 results remains uncertain and will be based on the duration of the virus and the magnitude of the economic impact on global demand for our products," Umpleby said.

The company's shares fell about 1%, trading at $114.08 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The International Monetary Fund this month predicted the "Great Lockdown" would result in the worst global recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Companies of all sizes have been trying to hoard cash and boost liquidity.

Caterpillar said its financial position remained "strong". During the first quarter, its enterprise operating cash flow was $1.130 billion. It ended the quarter with $7.1 billion in cash and has a $20.5 billion liquidity pool.

In the latest quarter, Caterpillar returned about $1.6 billion to shareholders via buybacks and dividends. It called paying dividends a "priority" but said it would temporarily suspend share repurchases.

The pandemic-induced economic uncertainty is taking a heavy toll on prices for oil and other commodities, leading to sharp spending cuts for miners and drillers. That has hit industrials like Caterpillar which sell mining and oil and gas machines.

Sales at its energy & transportation and mining business, which accounts for 60% of the company's revenues, fell 19% during the quarter from a year ago.

Construction equipment sales declined an annual 27%.

As of mid-April, the company said about 75% of its primary production facilities were in operation. It said some facilities which were temporarily closed had reopened.

Adjusted profit for the quarter came in at $1.60 per share, down from $2.94 a year earlier and below the $1.69 forecast by analysts on average, Refinitiv Eikon data showed. (Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; editing by Jason Neely, Nick Zieminski and David Gregorio)

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