Caterpillar flags supply-chain risks as global recovery boosts earnings

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Caterpillar equipment at a retail site in San Diego California
Caterpillar Inc. equipment is on display for sale at a retail site in San Diego, California, U.S., March 3, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

April 29 (Reuters) - Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N)on Thursday reported higher quarterly earnings but warned supply-chain bottlenecks, particularly a global shortage of semiconductor chips, could affect its ability to keep up with increasing customer orders.

In an interview, Chief Financial Officer Andrew Bonfield said while the company was seeing a recovery in most of its markets around the world, the supply situation related to chips remained "dynamic and very fluid" and could impact production later this year.

"We may not be able to satisfy all the end-user demand out there," he told Reuters. "And that's the challenge which we are trying to manage."

As a result, the Illinois-based manufacturer of heavy machinery did not provide an earnings forecast for this year.

Bonfield said Caterpillar is spending more on freight to get goods to its factories on time. The company also expect soaring raw material prices, particularly of steel to start pinching it from the quarter through June.

However, it said a run-up in commodity prices was a positive for the company as it was generating demand for its machines from iron-ore miners.

Caterpillar is adjusting prices in response to higher steel costs. Still, it expects operating profit to moderate through the rest of the year.

The company's shares, which have outperformed the broader blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) with a gain of 27% since its last earnings report, were down 2% at $227.55 in morning trade.

The demand for Caterpillar's yellow bulldozers, mining trucks and other equipment is getting a boost from a recovery in the global economy, which the International Monetary Fund earlier this month said is on track to post the fastest growth since 1976 on the back of unprecedented public spending.

Bonfield said the increased infrastructure spending around the globe, particularly in China has made the company's customers more confident and willing to invest in new machines.

"Anything that improves confidence is a plus," he said.

Adjusted profit for the first quarter came in at $2.87 per share, up from $1.65 per share a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by Refinitiv, on average, expected earnings of $1.94 per share.

Equipment sales rose 13% year-on-year in the quarter to $11.2 billion, led by a 72% surge in construction machine sales in Asia.

Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty

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