Caterpillar's 1Q Beats Street; Company Raises Outlook

Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) revealed soaring first-quarter results on Friday that crushed Wall Street’s expectations, prompting the world’s largest construction equipment maker to hike its guidance.

Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar said it earned $1.23 billion, or $1.84 a share, last quarter, compared with a profit of $233 million, or 36 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts had been calling for EPS of just $1.31.

Sales leaped 57% to $12.95 billion, solidly beating the Street’s view of $11.69 billion. Gross margins expanded to 30.1% from 28.5%.

“I am very pleased with our first-quarter results—demand continued to improve, we increased production, cost control was excellent, and our operating profit margin improved,” CEO Doug Oberhelman said in a statement.

Caterpillar said its first-quarter machinery and power systems sales soared 63% to $12.28 billion, easily offsetting a 2% decline in financial products revenue to $672 million.

Encouraged by the strong start to the year, Caterpillar upgraded its full-year outlook, projecting EPS of $6.25 to $6.75 on sales of $52 billion to $54 billion. Previously, the company saw EPS at around $6.00 on sales above $50 billion. Analysts have been calling for EPS of $6.26 on sales of $52.43 billion.

“We're on a roll and in a hurry. We have a great strategy, and we're off to a good start, but we have room to improve and more to do to reach our goals for 2015," Oberhelman said.

Caterpillar said the increase in its 2011 guidance would have been greater if not for the negative impact of the disaster in Japan. While the company’s facilities weren’t damaged, many of its suppliers were hurt. Caterpillar estimated the disaster will negatively impact its 2011 sales by $300 million and its profits by about $100 million.

Shares of Caterpillar jumped 2.94% to $115.95 ahead of Friday’s opening bell, putting them on pace to extend their 2011 gain of 20%. The stock has surged 63% from a year ago.