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Cat CEO: Earnings beat on better US, China growth

Caterpillar posted quarterly profits that topped estimates and raised its full-year outlook on a stronger-than-expected rebound in sales to the construction industry.

"The U.S. is a little better," Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman told CNBC's "Squwk Box" Thursday right after the numbers were announced. "Our business is building in China."

The world's largest maker of earth-moving machinery had first-quarter net profits of $922 million, or $1.61 a share, compared with $880 million, or $1.32 during the comparable quarter last year. Analysts on average expected the company to report a profit of $1.24.

After the earnings report, Caterpillar stock rose. Click here to get the latest quotes for Caterpillar.

With restructuring costs factored in, Caterpillar made a profit of $1.44 a share.

Revenue at the company—which also makes locomotives and diesel and turbine engines—was little changed year over year at $13.24 billion and ahead of estimates of $13.15 billion.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Caterpillar raised its full-year earnings outlook to $6.10 per share, up from $5.85, citing growing demand from builders.

The construction equipment business is a "brighter picture this year in the United States. [But] it's not great," Oberhelman said. "We're still well below our 2006 peak. We need a lot of infrastructure."

As for the U.S. economy, he predicted growth "approaching 3 percent" but acknowledged the need for "some growth to come to make that happen."

Meanwhile, cancellations from mining customers have weighed on high-margin sales to that key sector, forcing Caterpillar to cut its full-year earnings forecast several quarters in a row and to implement major cost cuts.

"We actually lowered our mining resources industry outlook a little bit for the rest of the year—to take it down about 20 percent," Oberhelman told CNBC.

Last year, Oberhelman's compensation declined 33 percent because of the company's failure to meet promised profit and performance targets, according to a filing on Monday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Read MoreCaterpillar CEO Oberhelman's pay fell 33% in 2013

CORRECTION: This version corrected that Caterpillar stock rose in premarket trading.

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—By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Reuters contributed to this report.

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