Kerry Stokes’ fortunes are looking up: not in the Australian media, but in his most important business, WesTrac, which is one of the world’s major distributors of Caterpillar products.

The rebound in China and Australia, especially in resources such as iron ore, is kicking in, and according to the third quarter report from Caterpillar in the US, that’s already having an impact and will have a bigger one in 2010.

Stokes’ distribution of Caterpillar products in Australia (predominantly WA and NSW) and north-eastern China generate billions of dollars a year in sales for the US giant and have given it a ringside seat in the rebounding resources boom in both countries; which has saved it from even bigger losses and sales falls than it has suffered in the current downturn.

The continuing boom in the iron ore mines of Western Australia, the surge in investment in natural gas and LNG projects, will all drive business for him and for Caterpillar. And help it recover more quickly (and WesTrac’s sales and profits) than for many other American multinationals.

It is one of those rare instances that the reasons for the improving fortunes for Caterpillar, and Stokes, are also why Australia is seen as being better placed than most countries at the moment: a better-performing domestic economy, high investment, solid exports and a rebounding economy in its most important export destination, China.

Caterpillar understands that Asia Pacific (including Australia and China) did better than any other region in the quarter and has far better prospects for 2010.

It reported overnight that “sales and revenues for third quarter 2009 were $US7.298 billion ($A7.7 billion), down $US5.683 billion, or 44%, from third quarter 2008.

“Machinery sales volume was down $US4.195 billion, and engines sales volume declined $US1.459 billion.

“Third-quarter profit of $404 million was down $464 million from $868 million in the third quarter of 2008. The decline was primarily due to significantly lower sales volume.”

No profit breakdowns were given by Caterpillar, but it did provide a breakdown of sales by geographic regions and Asia Pacific was by far the best performed, with sales of machines, engines and financial services down only 26% in the third quarter on a year ago, compared with the 44% plunge for the group.

The company said fall in Asia-Pacific in the quarter resulted from “Continued inventory reductions, along with weakness in both Australia and Japan, were the primary reasons volume declined in the Asia/Pacific region.

“Sales volume in Australia was down sharply despite some improvement in non-residential construction and coal mining.

“Housing remained depressed, and output in metals mining declined.

“Dealer-reported machine deliveries in the emerging markets of Asia have recovered from recession lows.”

The company reported that “Dealers in China reported their best third quarter ever for machine deliveries. That was a result of the government’s stimulus package and more than a 30% expansion in credit compared to a year earlier.

“We expect the Chinese economy will grow about 8.5% this year, and dealer deliveries of machines will continue to improve in the fourth quarter.

“We have experienced increased quoting activity and order intake on mining products relative to the second quarter.

“Our mining customers, in general, appear to be more optimistic now as compared to last quarter, and many believe the mining industry has bottomed.

“We expect this optimism to carry into 2010, and believe it is largely a result of relative stability in iron ore, copper and oil prices, along with record gold prices and increasing stability in financial markets.

“Even so, some customers are still acting cautiously, and many remain concerned about the sustainability of current commodity prices.”

Looking to 2010, Caterpillar said “Asia/Pacific will remain the fastest growing region, with about 6.5% growth.

“We expect almost 9% growth in China and 7% growth in India. High rates of growth should improve construction spending and investments in mining capacity.”

That will also be music to the balance sheet for Stokes and WesTrac.

So will expectations that China’s third quarter growth figures will be revealed later today as hitting 9% by senior economic officials in Beijing in recent days.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.