Has Alcoa Reached Its Peak?

Back in the days before Internet stocks, Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) used to have the stage to itself. You see, Alcoa used to be the first significant company to report earnings every three months. The sentiment on trading desks was that where Alcoa's earnings went, so would go the rest of the earnings season. That seems quaint and charming now.

These days, Alcoa shares the earnings spotlight with Genentech (NYSE: DNA  ) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) .

On Wednesday, Alcoa reported earnings of $0.46 vs. an estimate of $0.47 and revenues of $6.1 billion vs. an estimate $6.08 billion. This was not a great report. The market's reaction was to take the stock down almost 3% in pre-market trading.

The company has a couple of things going for it, though. The price-to-earnings ratio is on the high side at 23. Historically, it has been better to buy cyclicals when they seem expensive and sell them when they seem cheap. That may be counterintuitive, but there is ample precedent. Also, the stock is 20% off from its 52-week high of $39.44. Lastly, the share price is likely to do well in an unambiguous economic recovery.

Should you consider owning Alcoa? The first step is to understand what the company does. It is the world's largest aluminum company. It focuses on every conceivable aspect of processing and using aluminum. It does business in many segments, including aerospace, transportation, and industrial products. The business is a safe one.

What is not so safe, however, is the recent earnings history. This is the third quarter in a row that the company has come up short of analysts' estimates. Most analysts calculate their estimates based on guidance from the company. So how could Alcoa miss three times in a row?

If you are keen on dividends, Alcoa yields 1.88%. You don't have to spend much time looking, though, for other old economy stocks that have a higher yield than Alcoa but don't have the earnings issues.

CEO Alain Belda said that conditions look favorable for the time being. One thing that helped the company with this report was the high price of aluminum. In case you don't follow such things, the spot market price is close to a nine-year high and up almost 40% over the last year. One way to look at it is it doesn't get any better than this for the company. If that turns out to be true, there may not be a lot of reason to own the shares.

Interested in reading more about Alcoa? Check out the following:

Fool contributorRoger Nusbaumis an investment manager and wildland firefighter in Prescott, Ariz.At press time both he and his clients own Yahoo!

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