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March 3 (Reuters) - Caterpillar Inc's shares were flat in premarket trading on Friday, suggesting investors had put aside the company's tax risk as old news, a day after federal law enforcement officials searched three of its facilities.
The company's shares closed down 4.3 percent at $94.36 on Thursday, wiping out $2.47 billion of market value. The stock was down 0.5 percent at $93.90 in trading before the bell on Friday.
Caterpillar said on Thursday it believed the search was part of an Internal Revenue Service investigation related to profits earned by a Swiss parts subsidiary, Caterpillar SARL, or CSARL.
Chief Executive Officer Jim Umpleby, in a statement to employees that was seen by newspaper Peoria Star, said he was surprised by the turn of events and that management did not have enough information to provide a full understanding of the authorities' intent. (bit.ly/2lGON73)
"This morning, a number of our colleagues in the Peoria area were surprised when federal authorities arrived to execute a search warrant. I'm sorry that we had to experience this today," he said in the statement on Thursday.
The apparent escalation of the government's tax dispute with Caterpillar comes amid Trump administration's promise to reform corporate taxes and design a system that encourages companies to keep jobs and profits within the United States.
Caterpillar is currently contesting an Internal Revenue Service demand that it pay $2 billion in taxes and penalties for profits assigned to the subsidiary between 2007 and 2012.
Morningstar analyst Keith Schoonmaker said that Caterpillar's current exposure could rise to $3 billion, since the company has continued to file tax returns on the same basis.
"We suspect the core of the matter is not "new" news, but rather that it relates to the risk already disclosed in 2014-16 10-Ks," said Schoonmaker, who lowered his fair value estimate on the stock to $64 from $67.
Reporting by Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh