Two of the most recognizable names in U.S. manufacturing are signaling more pain lies ahead for the global economy.
Caterpillar Inc. predicted Friday that its 2020 profit will trail analysts’ estimates, while U.S. Steel Corp. reported the worst loss in almost three years and expects similar results this quarter.
That’s a blow to markets already reeling from the worsening outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, a factory slump and major cutbacks in corporate spending. It shows how the troubles plaguing the world economy may go deeper than the trade tensions that had dented sentiment through much of last year.
“We expect continued global economic uncertainty to pressure sales to users in 2020 and cause dealers to further reduce inventories,” Caterpillar Chief Executive Officer Jim Umpleby said in a statement.
Shares of Caterpillar (CAT) slid 2.6% at 1:26 p.m. New York time, while U.S. Steel (X) fell 2.8%. An S&P gauge of steel-related companies declined to the lowest since October.
While global stocks surged last quarter on hopes that a U.S.-China pact would boost commodity demand and help revive business investment and manufacturing, the Dow Jones Industrial Average erased its 2020 gains Friday.
Caterpillar has been trying to cut costs and trim inventories as demand in some of its main markets trails production. The company’s 2020 outlook signals further headwinds for machine sales, which fell the most in almost three years at the end of last year.
The view is consistent with U.S. economic figures showing a dropoff in spending.
The U.S. government’s latest tally of fourth-quarter growth showed business nonresidential investment in equipment declined an annualized 2.9% after a 3.8% slump in the previous three months. That marked the worst back-to-back quarters since late 2015-early 2016. Outlays for construction machinery in the fourth quarter were the weakest in more than two years.
In the current quarter, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicts the coronavirus outbreak will cut American economic growth by 0.4 percentage point.
Meanwhile, American steelmakers have faced slowing demand for their products, and U.S. Steel has been particularly hard hit because of aging plants that are less efficient than rivals’ with newer technology. In December, the Pittsburgh-based company said it would shut down most of its Great Lakes Works facility near Detroit and lay off as many as 1,545 workers.
Not all of the news was bad from the two producers. U.S. Steel said it expects the first quarter of 2020 to be the “trough” for the year. Deerfield, Illinois-based Caterpillar said that dealers are likely to work down excess inventories in the first half of 2020.
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