Alcoa kicks off earnings season on right note

The aluminum maker's forecasts indicate economy is okay, though hardly great.

By Jonathan Berr Jul 10, 2012 11:10AM

Alcoa (AA) started earnings season on the right foot, though the quarter was hardly a barnburner.


The aluminum maker posted a net loss of $2 million versus net income of $322 million, or 28 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenue fell 6% to $5.96 billion, beating analysts' forecasts of $5.83 billion. Excluding one-time items, profit was 6 cents, a penny better than Wall Street expectations.


Shares of Alcoa, which have barely budged this year, fell 2.6% to $8.53 in morning trading.


Chief Executive Klaus Keinfeld reiterated the company's forecast that global aluminum demand will rise 7% this year, spurred by strong demand from automakers and aerospace companies, including General Motors (GM) and Boeing (BA). A rebound in the commercial real estate market and housing permits will also help because these sectors require a huge amount of aluminum.


"Although aluminum prices are down, the fundamentals of the aluminum market remain sound with strong demand and tight supply, and Alcoa is successfully capitalizing on accelerating demand in high-growth end markets such as aerospace and automotive," Kleinfeld said in a press release.


Alcoa's results may foreshadow an earnings season that may not be as terrible as some pundits had feared. Shares of Caterpillar (CAT), a maker of construction equipment and a key industrial stock, and United Technologies (UTX), the parent of Otis elevators, are trading up Tuesday, as are shares of Procter & Gamble (PG). Caterpillar, which reports results later this month, is expected to report a 21.1% growth in revenue in the last quarter. United Technologies and Procter & Gamble are both expected to post sales declines.


Wall Street believes that Alcoa has room to run. The stock's median 52-week price target is $11.21, about 30% higher from where it currently trades. Alcoa's price-to-earnings multiple of 25.32 is well under its five-year high of 59.07, according to Reuters.

Alcoa offers a decent window on the economy, and as far as the company can see things are okay though hardly great. For instance, car sales are expected to top 14 million this year, up from 12.8 million last year. Cash-strapped airlines are buying Boeing's new fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner even if it was delayed for several years.


On the other hand, there are many risks to Alcoa's forecast such as the slowdown in China and the faltering economy in Europe. The lackluster recovery in the U.S., as evidenced by last week's tepid jobs report, doesn't help matters either because that means consumers will purchase fewer goods, a surprisingly high amount of which contain aluminum.


Alcoa is a canary in the economic coalmine. The bird may not be chirping yet, but it is clearing its throat.


Jonathan Berr is long Alcoa. Follow him on Twitter@jdberr

Jul 10, 2012 2:43PM
When the analysts lower their expectations then it makes it easier for companies to look like they are doing well.  Just another "Smoke & Mirrors" trick to give investors a false sense of security.  Alcoa's numbers suck because there is a dwingling demand for aluminum worldwide contrary to what their CEO is spewing forth.  He just doesn't want to deal with reality.... 
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