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Alcoa's Quarterly Engine Sounds Strong

Somehow, the anticipation of Monday's after-the-close earnings announcement by Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) was similar to the buildup that occurs each Memorial Day before the intonation of "Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines" in Indianapolis. After all, Alcoa was the first of the Dow Jones Industrial companies to report for the quarter.

As the company kicks off earnings season, investors turn to Alcoa's results for a preview of the robustness they can expect in second-quarter profit reports from the thousands of companies that follow. Wall Street appears to have an unusually rapt interest in earnings this quarter, as they will help provide either a confirmation or repudiation of the economy's health. However, Alcoa's results were somewhat anticlimactic.

Yes, earnings did dip to $715 million, or $0.81 per share, compared with last year's $744 million, or $0.85 per share. But the reasons for the decline, including a $0.04 charge per share in curtailment costs related to outages at facilities in Alcoa, Tenn., and Rockdale, Texas, and a $0.02 charge related to its pending bid for Alcan (NYSE: AL  ) , left investors confused as to whether their expectations should be raised or lowered.

Revenues for the quarter were up 3.8% to a record $8.1 billion, compared with $7.8 million a year ago. But revenues and earnings aside, most of the current attention to Alcoa involves the company's two-month-old, $27.5 billion offer for Canadian rival -- and former sibling -- Alcan. Thus far, Alcan has refused even to sit down with its suitor, and so the potential combination remains every bit as unrequited as my own crush on actress Sandra Bullock. Indeed, there's also increasing speculation about mining giant Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP  ) also having designs on Alcan.

Last week, Alcoa stated that it'd be willing to raise its bid for the north-of-the-border company, and with the U.S. Department of Justice having requested additional information from Alcoa, a denouement for this drama could take a while to become apparent. In the meantime, I'd note the highlights from the press release that five of Alcoa's six operating segments increased their sequential after-tax operating income in the quarter (with three of the five setting records), its debt-to-capital ratio is down to 29.4%, and its forward P/E (December 2007) is about 12 times. At the same time, the company's forward annual dividend yield is approximately 1.6%.

So while Alcoa's earnings release didn't offer any guidance that investors should be either optimistic or cautious toward the next few weeks of corporate profits, I do find their quest for Alcan interesting enough to suggest that Fools keep this one on their watch list.

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor David Lee Smith does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.   

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