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Caterpillar's stock tumbled lower Tuesday after opening higher as investors reacted to comments from the company on its earnings conference call that first-quarter earnings would be the "high-water mark" for 2018.
Shares of Caterpillar opened solidly in the green following a first-quarter earnings report that handily beat analysts' expectations.
But Caterpillar shares reversed lower during the call, when Chief Financial Officer Brad Halverson said first-quarter adjusted profits per share will be the highest for the year because of increased investment later in 2018.
"We expect the targeted investments for future growth to be higher over the remaining three quarters," Halverson said. "The outlook assumes that first-quarter adjusted profit per share will be the high-water mark for the year."
By 12 p.m. ET, the stock had fallen more than 4 percent, and was down more than 6 percent at session lows. Traders seized on the comment, taking the rest of the industrial sector down with Caterpillar.
In the earnings report, the Illinois-based machinery manufacturer raised its 2018 profit outlook by $2 a share over the previous quarter, to a range of $10.25 to $11.25 per share. The rosier guidance exceeds a Reuters analyst survey that expected a range of $8.39 to $10.60 a share. The company cited better-than-expected sales volume as the main driver of its improved full-year guidance.
Increased volume also drove the company's total sales up 38 percent from the year-earlier quarter, to $5.7 billion. Caterpillar also repurchased $500 million of common stock in the first quarter of 2018.
"The combination of strength in many of our end markets and our team's continued focus on operational excellence — including strong cost control — helped us deliver improved margins and a record first-quarter profit," Caterpillar CEO Jim Umpleby said in a statement.
The company added 10,900 jobs from a year earlier, bringing its worldwide total to 118,800.
Here's how the company did compared with what Wall Street expected:
While Caterpillar's stock has slipped about 2 percent in 2018, the company is well positioned to benefit from a construction sector boom in China, Citigroup said in a note Monday, upgrading Caterpillar shares to buy from neutral.
In its earnings report, the company said the "biggest drivers" in 2018 are "continued strength for construction activity in North America and infrastructure development in China."