Is Caterpillar the canary in the coalmine?
A gloomy quarterly earnings report from Caterpillar - the world's largest equipment maker - should be treated as a warning sign for the global mining industry, analysts told CNBC.
Caterpillar, widely considered an economic bellwether for the mining industry, posted lower-than-expected quarterly profits Wednesday and cut its full-year forecast for the third time this year.
The firm reported a third-quarter profit of $946 million, or $1.45 a share, down from $1.7 billion or $2.54 a share, a year earlier. Reuters analysts had expected earnings of $1.66 a share.
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"Caterpillar was that canary in the coalmine [Wednesday]. In hindsight we might be looking at the numbers announcement made today by Caterpillar as something we should have paid very close attention to," said Jack Bouroudjian, CEO at Bull and Bear Partners.
"One of the things you worry about is the fact that it is contagious. Mining is a very important part of Caterpillar's business; if we start to see that work its way into other areas of business, their land moving equipment and some of the other things they do, we've got to be very careful and watch Caterpillar and put some protection on it," he added.
Mining equipment is Caterpillar's most profitable product category, but as miners struggle amid slowing demand from China - the world's second-largest consumer of commodities - sales have taken a hit. Miners have scaled back on spending, closing mines and selling assets as they battle to produce the highest volumes at the lowest costs.
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The challenging conditions have taken their toll on mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, which reported bleak first half numbers in August. Rio Tinto reported a 71 percent decline in half-year profits, while BHP Billiton reported a 30 percent drop in full-year profits.
In response Caterpillar has closed some its plants temporarily, furloughed thousands of salaried and management employees, and sacked 13,000 workers over the past year.
Caterpillar's chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman told CNBC on Wednesday that 2013 has been a tough and painful year and he would be glad to see it over, but said the company was well positioned for a bounce back in the mining sector, which he believes will happen soon.
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"I've had numerous conversations with our big mining customers over the last couple of months. They are pretty bullish on mining production which at some point means more sales [for Caterpillar]," he added.
But the tone from analysts who talked to CNBC was markedly bearish.
Warren Gilman, Chairman & CEO at CEF Holdings, told CNBC Asia's Squawk Box that he expected more pain to come for Caterpillar and the mining industry as a whole over the next six to nine months.
"We're going to continue to see the fallout for the next six to nine months so it's no surprise that Caterpillar lowered guidance and I expect we'll see them lower guidance again six months from now," said Gilman.
(Read more: Falling commodity prices crush miner BHP profits)
"We're at this point in the quarterly cycle where we hope earnings will justify the market... but what happened with Caterpillar yesterday was that all of a sudden they didn't justify anything, they took away some justification and people got worried," said David Blitzer, MD & Chairman of the S&P 500 Index Committee at the S&P Dow Jones Indices.
However, despite industry headwinds, the last two quarterly reports from Australia's two mining heavyweights have shown that conditions are starting to pick up.
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Last week, BHP Billiton reported a 23 percent on-year rise in iron ore production in the third quarter, while Rio Tinto reported strong growth in thermal coal and copper production in the quarter, up 14 percent and 23 percent respectively.
—By CNBC's Katie Holliday: Follow her on Twitter @hollidaykatie