I fly commercially from a nearby airport in a town named Alcoa. As you might suspect, the town contains a plant operated by Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) , the nation's largest aluminum manufacturer. The town's residents are not wearing happy faces today.
Pittsburgh-based Alcoa has announced that, in the face of the expanding worldwide economic slump -- including plummeting aluminum prices – it will cut about 15,000 jobs worldwide, reduce its output by 18%, sell four non-core businesses, and cut its capital spending in half. The restructuring will result in charges of about $900 million to $950 million after taxes for the 2008 fourth quarter, and it is expected to result in savings of about $450 million before taxes annually for the company.
The units to be sold include Alcoa's electrical and electronic systems, global foil, cast auto wheels, and European transportation products. As for the layoffs, a number of them will occur in Russia, where the company bought two plants in 2005. Neither is profitable.
Aluminum, like most metals, has seen its price plummet since July, when most commodities reached their peak. Charges for the light metal have slid by more than half. That decline, however, is somewhat less than that of copper, for instance, which -- despite a recent, and probably temporary, bounce -- has given up more than 60% during the same period.
As you might suspect, metals companies' shares have not fared well since the summer. Alcoa's have fallen by almost 75% from their highs, as have those of Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FCX ) -- the largest of the publicly held copper companies. Its smaller rival, Southern Copper (NYSE: PCU ) , has given up more than 58%.
Alcoa isn't the only big metals producer or miner to cut staff and production or make other changes lately. Put Freeport on the same line, along with London-based Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP ) . And just Monday, U.S. Steel (NYSE: X ) announced that it will cease making some steel products used in the automotive and mining industries, in favor of a focus on main sheet and tubular steel products. Further, Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal NYSE: MT), the world's biggest steelmaker, also has been taking steps to lower its costs.
As much as Alcoa has fallen, it'd be easy for me to urge Fools to gobble up its shares. But I'm not yet a believer that our economic softness will improve quickly. So my inclination is to watch the company closely but not touch it for now.
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