Caterpillar shares fall after Bank of America downgrade

  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch downgrades Caterpillar to neutral from overweight, saying sales growth is slowing after a strong 2017.
  • "Caterpillar saw across-the-board deceleration in all of its key regions, particularly in construction," analyst Ross Gilardi says in a note.
A worker operates a Caterpillar Inc. 336D hydraulic excavator during construction on Route 7 near Falls Church, Virginia.
Hassan Sarbakhshian | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A worker operates a Caterpillar Inc. 336D hydraulic excavator during construction on Route 7 near Falls Church, Virginia.

Shares of Caterpillar fell Thursday after Bank of America Merrill Lynch downgraded the company's stock to neutral from overweight, arguing that sales growth is slowing after a strong 2017.

"Caterpillar's monthly retail sales growth is beginning to slow, and appears to be past its peak," analyst Ross Gilardi said in a note Thursday. "Caterpillar saw across-the-board deceleration in all of its key regions, particularly in construction ... comparatives become much more difficult in the next six months, as worldwide machinery sales were down 8 percent in January 2017."

Shares of Caterpillar fell 1 percent following the analyst's call. Its stock is up 41 percent over the past year, well ahead of the Dow Jones industrial average's 14 percent climb during the period. It is the second-best performer in the index over the last 12 months.

The blue-chip company easily surpassed quarterly financial expectations last week, posting earnings per share of $2.82 against projections of $2.13. 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.

Caterpillar's stock fell shortly after executives noted that the first-quarter earnings would be the "high-water mark" for 2018.

Despite the strong earnings, Gilardi also cut his price target on the equipment manufacturer to $156 a share from $172, implying just above 8 percent upside over the next 12 months.

CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed to this report.