As Caterpillar posts its fourth quarter earnings this morning, will everything be coming up rainbows? - 

Caterpillar is expected to announce fourth quarter earnings later this morning. The construction and mining equipment company’s outlook could provide some insight into this year’s export market.

When it comes to the U.S. export market, Caterpillar is the canary in the coal mine -- literally.

If underground drills and roof supports are selling well because India and China are building, that usually means other U.S. firms are booking orders too.

Matthew Slaughter of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth says 2013 looks a bit gloomy. “One of the major challenges for the United States right now is growth in many of major trading partners is slowing down,” he says.

Those partners are countries like Canada, China and Brazil. “Slower growth in those countries tends to mean slower growth in export orders for companies like Caterpillar,” says Slaughter.

Frost and Sullivan analyst Sandeep Kar says there are still some bright spots like Indonesia, Turkey, and Pakistan. “We are seeing continued demand for construction equipment -- for mining, for shipping, for locomotive and railroad application,” he says.

Kar thinks activity there and in China, where continued growth -- albeit at a slower pace -- will still provide plenty of customers for earthmovers and tractors, and just about everything else too.

Follow Dan Gorenstein at @dmgorenstein