Investors relieved as Alcoa blows away earnings

The news spurs hope that the first quarter may not be as depressing as feared.

By Jonathan Berr Apr 11, 2012 2:39PM
Alcoa (AA) did not just beat Wall Street's earnings expectations. It crushed them, which bodes well for the rest of earnings season.

Net income in the first quarter was $94 million, or 9 cents a share, down from $308 million, or 27 cents, a year earlier. Revenue rose 0.8% to $6 billion, beating the $5.77 billion Wall Street consensus forecast. Excluding one-time events, profit was 10 cents, exceeding the 4-cent average estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News.

This is a remarkable turnaround from the fourth quarter, when Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld scared the bejesus out of investors with his talk of economic challenges. Though Alcoa faced a 9% drop in the realized price of aluminum and a 13% drop in the realized price of alumina, the company offset this trend by cutting costs by shutting down older, less-efficient plants in North America and Europe. Kleinfeld also is building a state-of-the-art $11 billion plant in Saudi Arabia, which should benefit the company in coming years.

Alcoa's results offer a good preview for the results of the rest of the S&P 500, since aluminum is integral to many industries, including automakers, aerospace, and construction and industrial products, each of which showed gains in the quarter. The company also raised its 2012 forecasts for the aerospace, automotive, commercial transportation and packaging markets, among others.

"Alcoa continues to project a global aluminum supply deficit in 2012 and reaffirmed its forecast that global aluminum demand would grow 7% in 2012, on top of the 10% growth seen in 2011," the company said.

Wall Street reacted positively and pushed up the main stock indexes Wednesday. If Alcoa did well, it stands to reason that companies such as General Electric (GE), a big consumer of aluminum, should do well, too. GE reports results April 20. Wall Street is expecting profit of 33 cents, unchanged from a year earlier, on revenue of $34.71 billion, down 9.7% from the year-ago period. This is good news for other industries.

For instance, if you accept the premise that GE's results will be fine, that should indicate that IBM (IBM), which focuses on business customers, will post good results. Expectations are low for Big Blue. Analysts are expecting profit of $2.65, versus $2.41 a year earlier, on revenue of $24.77 billion, unchanged from 2011. The company reports April 17. Other sectors are also expected to do well.

For instance, Google (GOOG), a key bellwether, issues earnings Thursday. Wall Street expects the search engine giant to earn $9.65 on revenue of $8.14 billion, a 25% increase, as experts expect global advertising spending to rise 4.9% in 2012 from a 3.8% gain in 2011.

The quarter may not be a barn-burner, but there is a decent chance that it may not be as depressing as many observers in the media had feared.

--Jonathan Berr has no positions in the stocks discussed here. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.



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