The company's struggles show the depth and complexity of the economy's troubles. The sudden collapse in worldwide demand for industrial commodities, ranging from oil to copper, stopped the boom for exploration and production, says Alexander Blanton, analyst at Ingalls & Snyder.
That means previously booming nations such as China and Brazil are postponing orders for new machinery.
"Caterpillar is diversified, yes," Blanton says. "But the problem is almost everything is going down."
Empty spaces at malls
It's not just industrial weakness, either. The failures of several large retailers have left malls with cavernous empty spaces.
As a result, mall operators aren't willing to break ground on new malls when the ones they have aren't full, Blanton says.
As the bad news accumulates, the International Monetary Fund is expected Wednesday to again lower its forecast of global growth for this year.
Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues are expected to pledge at the conclusion of their two-day meeting Wednesday to keep interest rates close to zero while pumping more money into the nation's financial system to try to get credit flowing again.
The doom and gloom comes as President Obama presses Congress to quickly approve an economic stimulus plan that includes personal and business tax breaks, aid to states and local governments and public works spending.
The House will vote on its version of the bill Wednesday, and Senate committees begin pulling together a companion bill this week.
The stimulus plans also include more aid for laid-off workers.
The House version contains $27 billion to extend a federal program that provides an extra 33 weeks of unemployment benefits, on top of the 26 weeks of regular coverage provided in most states.
The bill also includes $9 billion to increase the average $300 weekly unemployment benefit by $25. Another provision includes $20 billion to boost food-stamp benefits and more for job training.
Obama touted the stimulus plan Monday in remarks at the White House.
"These are not just numbers on a page," Obama said. "These are working men and women whose families have been disrupted and whose dreams have been put on hold. We owe it to each of them and to every single American to act with a sense of urgency and common purpose."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said the House will not adjourn for its Presidents Day recess, set for mid-February, until the stimulus legislation is passed.
Obama is scheduled to meet Tuesday with congressional Republicans to see whether he can drum up bipartisan support for the plan. So far, Republicans have been cool to the stimulus package, calling it too heavy on spending and too light on tax cuts.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., says the stimulus bill contains too much wasteful spending, should focus more on small-business tax relief and should not provide refund checks to people who don't pay income taxes.
Cantor says that the billions of dollars of aid to states included in the bill is tantamount to rewarding legislatures that increased spending beyond their means.
"He (Obama) was elected based on the hope that people had that he could come to Washington and largely change the way things work," Cantor says.