Caterpillar Inc’s chief executive said on Wednesday there was a good chance revenues would return to the $50 billion mark they topped last year “in the next five years” — though he warned that progress toward the goal “won’t come smoothly.”

Speaking at the annual shareholder meeting, Jim Owens said be thought there was “an 80 percent chance some time in the next five years of going back above the $50 billion threshold.”

Caterpillar, which reported its first quarterly loss in 17 years two months ago, expects sales of between $31.5 billion and $38.5 billion in 2009, down from $51.3 billion in 2008.

That would be the worst one-year revenue decline since the 1930s.

Sales of the company’s distinctive yellow construction and mining machinery have tumbled as result of lower commodity prices and lower oil production.

Caterpillar shares were little changed in after-hours trading after closing down 1.62 percent at $37.62. (Reporting by James Kelleher; Editing by Ted Kerr)

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