updated 4/21/2009 8:58:47 AM ET 2009-04-21T12:58:47

Caterpillar Inc., the world's largest maker of construction and mining equipment, on Tuesday reported a first-quarter loss compared with a year-ago profit, hurt by a big charge for layoffs and sharp sales declines across the globe.

The loss was Caterpillar's first since 1992 and highlighted the depth and breadth of a global downturn that forced double-digit sales drops in most of Caterpillar's product lines. Caterpillar's vast geographic reach and array of products — including machines used to build roads and bridges, engines that power oceangoing freighters and mining trucks that haul materials like iron ore — make it a bellwether of the global economy.

Caterpillar posted a loss of $112 million, or 19 cents per share, in the quarter ended in March, including quarterly charges for layoffs of $558 million, or 58 cents per share. During the same period a year earlier, the company earned $922 million, or $1.45 per share.

Excluding one-time items, Caterpillar would have earned 39 cents per share, handily beating Wall Street expectations. Analysts, on average, expected a profit of 4 cents per share on revenue of $8.54 billion, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

Caterpillar, a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, said quarterly revenue dropped 22 percent to $9.22 billion.

The company also cut its 2009 profit forecast. It now expects profit of about $1.25 per share on revenue of about $35 billion, down from an earlier projection of $2.50 per share on revenue of $40 billion. Analysts expect profit of $1.77 per share on revenue of $39.04 billion.

During the quarter, Caterpillar shares fell about 37 percent, dipping briefly to their lowest point — $21.71 per share — in about six years.

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