By KATHY SHWIFF (Wall Street Journal)
Alcoa Inc. posted a third-quarter profit–after three quarterly losses in a row–surprising Wall Street, which had expected another loss, and getting the third-quarter earnings season off to a good start. Chief Executive Klaus Kleinfeld said cost-cutting and other steps the aluminum giant took earlier this year had a strong effect on the cash position and profit. "Despite unfavorable currency and energy headwinds, our performance this quarter indicates that Alcoa is weathering the economic storm and is in excellent shape to benefit when the market recovers," he added. Alcoa, the first blue-chip company to release quarterly results, said it sees signs that key markets are stabilizing and predicted global aluminum consumption would increase 11% in the second half of 2009. The company has cut output and costs during a brutal period for the aluminum industry, saving $1.61 billion in procurement costs and $375 million in overhead so far this year. Reductions in working capital generated $780 million in cash. Alcoa said it finished the quarter with $1.1 billion of cash on hand, up 29% from the end of the second quarter.
The company also has been investing in areas expected to recover early from the economic downturn, ranging from a construction-products factory in Russia to a small fasteners business in Morocco to sections of the oil-and-gas industry. Alcoa reported a profit of $77 million, or 8 cents a share, down from a year-earlier profit of $268 million, or 33 cents a share. The latest results included 3 cents a share in restructuring and other charges. Prior-year results included a 4-cent charge related to the curtailment of a smelter in Texas. Excluding items, earnings were 4 cents a share in the latest period. Revenue dropped 34% to $4.62 billion. Analysts' estimates were for a loss of 9 cents a share on revenue of $4.55 billion, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters. Alcoa's average realized aluminum price during the third quarter was $1,972 a metric ton, up 18% from the previous quarter. Shipments declined 8.3%. The company posted profits in all segments of its business, except primary metals. Alcoa's shares closed Wednesday up 2.2% at $14.20; trading was halted after hours. The stock, which has been rising recently on optimism about its results, has almost tripled from a 21-year low in March but is still down one-quarter from a year ago.