By Nick Carey
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Caterpillar Inc on Tuesday cut its 2015 profit outlook and warned the plunge in oil prices would hurt its energy equipment business, sending shares tumbling as much as 8 percent.
The world's largest construction and mining equipment maker also posted a lower-than-expected quarterly profit.
During the fourth quarter, Caterpillar's energy business helped offset falling construction equipment sales and weakness in mining equipment orders due to lower copper, coal and iron ore prices.
Caterpillar said it expects only a modest improvement in the global economy in 2015.
The nearly 60 percent drop in oil prices since June will not only affect Caterpillar's energy business, but will also hurt construction projects in oil-producing regions, the company said.
Caterpillar expects lower construction equipment sales in China in 2015 due to a weaker market. The stronger dollar should hit revenue from products sold overseas.
Chief Executive Officer Doug Oberhelman said in a statement 2015 will be "tough" for the company.
Caterpillar said it expected full-year 2015 revenues of around $50 billion, about 9 percent below the 2014 total. The company had said last October it expected 2015 revenue to be flat or slightly up versus 2014.
On a conference call, company officials said around 50 percent of the expected sales decline was directly or indirectly related to low oil prices. Chief Financial Officer Brad Halverson said that with housing starts and the construction sector expected to do well in 2015 - outside the energy sector - North America is one of "few bright spots" for Caterpillar.
How low oil prices will affect consumer sentiment, the economy and ultimately Caterpillar's business is hard to tell at this point, executives said.
Q4 REVENUES TUMBLE
The Peoria, Illinois-based company reported fourth-quarter net profit of $757 million, down nearly 25 percent from $1.03 billion a year earlier.
Earnings per share were $1.23, compared with $1.54 a year earlier. Analysts expected $1.55 for the most recent quarter.
Revenue totaled $14.24 billion, down from $14.4 billion a year earlier, but above estimates of $14.18 billion.
Caterpillar expects full-year 2015 earnings per share of $4.60, or $4.75 excluding restructuring costs. Analysts had estimated $6.67 for the year.
During the fourth quarter, energy and transportation sales rose 11 percent to $6.2 billion, but that was not enough to offset falling mining and construction equipment sales.
Caterpillar shares fell as low as $79.16 before cutting losses to $79.40, down 7.7 percent.
(Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Nick Zieminski)