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A Look at Caterpillar Inc. and the Outlook for Infrastructure Companies

In this segment from Motley Fool Money, the cast digs into Caterpillar's (NYSE: CAT) growing issues with U.S. law enforcement before looking broadly at where the infrastructure industry may be headed after enjoying a bullish outlook thanks to the Trump administration.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on March 17, 2017.

Chris Hill: Caterpillar is making headlines, but not for good reasons. Earlier this month, U.S. law enforcement raided three of Caterpillar's offices as part of an IRS probe. This week, the company hired former U.S. Attorney General William Barr to deal with the ongoing government investigation. Ron, can we call that, officially, a red flag? Any time you have to hire the former -- it's like, who used to be the leading law-enforcement official in America? Let's get that person.

Ron Gross: It's a mess, and I feel kind of bad for the new CEO. He's only been there a short period of time, and he inherited quite a mess. You never want federal agents raiding your headquarters. Just a little advice for other companies out there: That's bad. The IRS is saying a $2 billion hit is coming their way for taxes that they should have paid, probably related to their Swiss subsidiary, although these investigations are always a little bit cryptic as they're going on. The company, of course, says that they are compliant and cooperating. But then again, like you said, this week, we see a former U.S. attorney brought in to help matters, and you have pressure from an investment group, the CTW Investment Group, pushing for more disclosure, better corporate governance. So, not good times over at Caterpillar, amid a global slump in exactly what their business lines are.

Seth Jayson: I can't wait to see the legal thriller headquartered in Peoria. International thriller.

Hill: [laughs] Speaking of Caterpillar, we were touching on this before we started taping today -- where are we with the business of Caterpillar, specifically their industry? I'm talking about infrastructure. A few months ago, it really seemed to be all anyone was talking about, in terms of, 2017, we're going to have this big boost in infrastructure spending. And it really seems to have quieted down, Seth.

Jayson: Yeah. Terex, which is a company we had in Hidden Gems, I took the lead from their own management, which said, I'll paraphrase, "We ain't seeing an infrastructure bill, and we're not going to count on it, and even if we had seen one, that money wouldn't have come through for several years." I actually sold Terex on that news, because the market continues to value these companies as if there's something around the corner. And we've seen nothing so far.

Andy Cross: And we're just not seeing it from international much, either.

Gross: Yeah, a lot of companies did get the Trump bump. November-ish was pretty hot for some of these companies. Titan International, another company we follow, has had quite a run, bumping off the bottom over the last couple years, but still remains weak when you look at it on a five-year basis. These are cyclical businesses, and I'm a firm believer that eventually, the cycle does change. But it's always a matter of how long does that take, and what rate of return on an annualized basis can you put in your pocket? Therein lies the trick.

Jayson: Yeah. And we've seen no indication from them that things are about to change, except that they're very excited about some of their agricultural tires. But they've been excited about them for two or three years at least.

Gross: I am happy to see the balance sheet firm up on that. Listeners of the show will know I talk about Titan probably too much.

Jayson: We have it over at Hidden Gems.

Gross: I'm still a believer in it. I'm still a shareholder in it. So, just, patience.

Andy Cross has no position in any stocks mentioned. Chris Hill has no position in any stocks mentioned. Ron Gross owns shares of Titan International. Seth Jayson owns shares of Titan International. The Motley Fool recommends Titan International. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.