How the Global Commodities Crash Continue to Crush Caterpillar

CAT Total Return Price Chart
CAT Total Return Price Chart

CAT Total Return Price data by YCharts .

Beholden to the commodity gods

As much as we would like to think that companies control their own destiny, many times, they're beholden to the markets they serve. In the case of Caterpillar, a lot of the company's equipment goes to produce commodities consumed around the world every day, and the performance of commodities in the last few years has been nothing short of abysmal.

Gold Price in US Dollars data by YCharts .

You can see from the diversity of commodities I've included in the chart above that there's no relief for Caterpillar. Metals are down, food products are down, and even energy is down. The result of falling commodity prices is that investment in drilling or mining for commodities drops. And the drop in investment can be quick.

Look below at the U.S. Energy Information Administration's analysis of investment in oil and natural gas extraction in the U.S. You can see that the last year has seen investment drop nearly in half. That's a direct hit to Caterpillar's top and bottom lines.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The fall in commodities isn't the only negative for Caterpillar this year, though. China has hurt demand as well.

China adding salt to the wound

For two decades, China has been a consistent source of growth for companies like Caterpillar. The booming economy and an explosion in construction activity has helped companies weather the storms in the U.S. and Europe, but that thesis is now unraveling.

China's economy has slowed to mid-single-digit growth this year, and many observers think it's actually in a recession. At Caterpillar, management is very worried about the slowdown there; sales in Asia-Pacific dropped an incredible 30% in the second quarter alone.

China has now become a liability for infrastructure companies like Caterpillar, not a strength. That's a huge change for market observers.

Is now the time to buy?

What's remarkable about a company like Caterpillar is that it's able to keep churning out profits even in tough times. For 2016, analysts are still expecting $4.57 per share in earnings, giving the stock a forward P/E ratio of 14. I don't think that's cheap enough to buy given the weakness in commodities long term, but if China begins to grow consistently, and commodities turn around, this could be a great way to play the recovery. Just keep an eye on those long-term end-market trends, because there's a lot that's out of Caterpillar's hands when it comes to demand for its earth-moving equipment.

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The article How the Global Commodities Crash Continue to Crush Caterpillar originally appeared on

Travis Hoium has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

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