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As has become tradition each earnings season, aluminum producer Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) became the first blue-chip company to release earnings for the quarter late Tuesday. They weren't pretty, but no one expected them to be.
For the quarter, the Pittsburgh-based company posted a loss of $479 million, or $0.61 a share, compared to last year's earnings of $303 million, or $0.37 a share. The per-share number was $0.05 worse than expectations. Revenue fell to $4.15 billion, from $7.38 billion during the first quarter of 2008. The loss from continuing operations was $0.59 per share.
Alcoa is the world's third largest producer of aluminum, behind rival Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP ) . It divides its operations into to four categories: alumina, primary metals, flat-rolled products, and engineered products. Both primary metals and flat-rolled products suffered losses during the quarter, while alumina and engineered products managed to eke out gains.
In many respects, the aluminum industry has been caught smack in the middle of the economic cataclysm that's affecting virtually the entire world. Its products are used in a variety of applications, including automobiles, airplane parts, consumer goods, and construction components, all of which have been hammered by the upheaval in the economy.
Like so many industrial companies, Alcoa has undertaken a variety of steps to shore up its operations and shave its costs. In January, it lopped off 13% of its workforce. Beyond that, it continues to trim production and shutter plants, in addition to cutting its dividend.
But given the precipitous price slide that most commodities have taken of late, there's no doubt that other aluminum producers such as Century Aluminum (Nasdaq: CENX ) and Kaiser Aluminum (Nasdaq: KALU ) will suffer the same fate as Alcoa -- or possibly worse. Ditto such other disparate metals companies as Southern Copper (NYSE: PCU ) and perhaps steel mini-mill operator Nucor (NYSE: NUE ) , each of which will report later on.
But the most immediate question is how we treat Alcoa today. I'm inclined to be a slow, steady buyer. This is a high-quality metals producer whose ultimate value likely has declined far less than its share price -- which closed yesterday at $8.06, down from a 52-week high approaching $45.
Given an economic turnaround, I'm convinced Alcoa will be one of the first to exit the starting gate. That alone should make it worth your attention.
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