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Caterpillar CEO 'guardedly optimistic' about global economy

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[March 05, 2014]  (Reuters)  Caterpillar Inc's <CAT.N> chief executive said on Tuesday several of the company's biggest markets, including China and North America, were strengthening modestly, but he warned that the global economy was largely fragile and sensitive to unexpected shocks like the crisis in Ukraine.

Caterpillar Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman told ConExpo, the world's largest construction equipment show, in Las Vegas that he remained "guardedly optimistic ... very, very guardedly optimistic" about the global economic outlook.

Referring to the crisis in the Ukraine without mentioning Russia, he said it served as a reminder of the political risks, in the United States and abroad, that can still trip up the global economy.

"Most of the bad of the news in Europe is behind us," he said.

"(But) we just saw a weekend event that can change things in a minute. The world's a fragile place and the world's economy is a fragile thing and it doesn't take much of a disruption to cause a fairly large ripple effect."

He said China, whose once-roaring economy had been slowing as government investment declined, was showing signs of a modest rebound. But he suggested that the days of double-digit annual growth there were probably over. "I would not expect China to be the big boom that we've been used to," he said.

Oberhelman said that in North America, the construction equipment market was having its best March in four years, driven by both the housing recovery and decreased uncertainty about U.S. fiscal policy.

"Our U.S. contractors are more optimistic at this point than they have been for awhile," Oberhelman said.

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The rest of the world, he said, remained a "mixed bag" with continued pockets of weakness in places like Australia and Brazil.

"Overall it's a fairly mixed bag generally with North America leading the way and a slightly stronger economic growth prospect," he said. "If it continues it could help some of the other parts of the rest of the world."

(Editing by Richard Chang)

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