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Thump! Clang! Those were the sounds of aluminum producer Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) stumbling out of the gate as the blue-chip stock kicked off earnings season yesterday. And while you didn't hear the pitter-patter of executives running for the doors at Alcoa, you might have detected that noise at a couple of their competitors.
Last week, Alcoa announced a program of salary freezes, employee layoffs, asset sales, and capex cuts. This week, it posted a loss of $1.19 billion, or $1.49 a share. Those figures are dramatically lower compared to net income of $632 million, or $0.75 a share, in the year-ago quarter. This year's results included a series of restructuring, impairment, and special charges totaling $708 million, or $0.88 a share. Revenue dropped to $5.68 billion, from $7.03 billion in the final quarter of 2007.
The primary culprits behind the far-from-inspiring numbers were a 35% slide in aluminum prices during the quarter alone, and a 56% drop since midyear. The rapid reduction was tied to falling demand for the metal, largely from the automotive, commercial-transportation, and building sectors. Those deteriorating conditions appeared to be primarily responsible for the pending departure of the CEO of Norway's aluminum producer Norsk Hydro (NYSE: NHY ) , along with Dick Evans, his counterpart in the aluminum group at Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP ) .
Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld just joined the company in May, so he's clearly entitled to a certain amount of honeymoon protection, especially since he's already boosted the company's share of primary aluminum production. Nevertheless, he did say that the aluminum industry has been caught in a "perfect storm of historic proportions."
Of course, aluminum isn't the only metal to get pounded lately. Next week we'll likely be told about an expected quarterly loss at miner Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FCX ) . The copper, molybdenum, and gold producer has ridden a sharp drop in copper prices to an 80% share-price slide from its 52-week high. Next up the following week, steel producers U.S. Steel (NYSE: X ) and Nucor (NYSE: NUE ) are both expected to come in below their year-ago results.
But what should we do about Alcoa now? My response is simple: absolutely nothing. I'm an avid sailor, but even I know better than to go out in the middle of a perfect storm.
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