Caterpillar earnings after adjusting for a big write-down in China topped analysts' estimates Monday.
The company said it expects earnings to improve later this year, but its outlook shows it isn't banking on it.
The world's largest maker of construction equipment posted sharply lower profit due to a charge connected with accounting fraud at a Chinese subsidiary and weak demand among its dealers. Caterpillar's bulldozers, tractors, and other machines have been accumulating in warehouses due to slowing economies in China, Europe, and the U.S.
The company said it was able to sell off some of this glut in the fourth quarter, reducing the value of its inventory from the third quarter by $2 billion. Inventory levels, however, remain $1 billion above year-ago levels, and executives expect 2013 to be a "tough year."
Caterpillar forecast full-year earnings of $7 to $9 a share, compared to analysts' estimates of about $8.54 a share.
Caterpillar CEO Douglas R. Oberhelman cited the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the federal debt and deficit debate in Washington, D.C., for the company's wide guidance.
"What's coming up in 2013? ... It could be a pretty good year, but we've got that same political issue here in this country that will drive a lot of uncertainty if they start screaming at each other again. [So] we chose a wide-range top and bottom [lines]," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box."