In a further indication of the stress rippling across the construction and mining sectors, Deerfield-based Caterpillar reported its biggest decline in global machine sales since the end of 2016.
The report underlines how the coronavirus outbreak is putting a drag on the industries that Caterpillar supplies. Fears about the virus's impact on global growth have helped send shares of the economic bellwether down about 39% this year, off to its worst start since 2009.
The downbeat mood in the industry permeated ConExpo, the largest construction convention in North America. In remarks at the Las Vegas gathering this week, Caterpillar Chief Executive Officer Jim Umpleby said the coronavirus hasn't yet caused major supply snags, and the company was focusing on executing the plan set in place when he first took over as CEO.
But Umpleby didn't offer much detail on how the worldwide move to stamp out the virus will change prospects for the business.
"Our guidance was based on the best information that we had at the time, and if we have any changes to that we'll do it when we put out our first-quarter results," Umpleby said in an interview.
In February, Caterpillar said its machine sales dropped 11% on a rolling three-month period. Isolating the Asia-Pacific region, the sales fell 17%, the largest drop in four years.
Oil and gas retail sales fell 3%, marking a sixth straight month of declines in the segment. Chief Financial Officer Andrew Bonfield said Wednesday that oil-market tumult from the past week will impact the oil and gas business, but said that it's still too early to tell how strong that may be.