"I don't predict a recession anywhere in the world at all in 2013," the construction equipment company executive said, "but Europe is a one area where there are so many political unknowns, it's hard to see how that's going to end up."
Caterpillar also sees China recovering a bit in 2013. "We sure see China past the bottom, and I'm optimistic about China in 2013, actually," Oberhelman said.
(Read More: Caterpillar Earnings Beat, but It Cuts Full-Year Outlook.)
There are also signs of burgeoning housing recovery in the U.S., but the economy needs more. "We need that housing start number to double to really start to move the economy," he said. "It's going to be a while before that happens."
Calling the U.S. recovery slow and anemic, the Caterpillar CEO said that once gross domestic product growth gets back into the 2 percent range, we'll see both unemployment and housing starts come back.
Forecasting the short-term outlook is also difficult given the global uncertainties that continue to linger both in the U.S. and overseas. (Read More: Why 'Fiscal Cliff' May Be Bigger Threat Than You Think.)
"When you have worldwide growth at 2.5 percent or so, and U.S. growth at 1.5 percent, it's really hard to see where we're going to go with a lot of the uncertainty in the next 60 to 90 days," Oberhelman said. "I'm hoping that will clear up as we go into the wintertime, but we'll see."