What happened

Shares of Century Aluminum (NASDAQ:CENX) opened up more than 10% on Friday after the aluminum producer reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter results and gave an optimistic outlook for the year. It's a tough market for metals companies, but Century management seems to think the worst has passed.

So what

After markets closed Thursday, Century reported a fourth-quarter loss of $0.09 per share, better than the consensus $0.17-per-share loss estimate, on revenue of $435.5 million that beat expectations by $9 million.

Hot metal is poured in a forging facility.

Image source: Getty Images.

Century shipped 202,870 metric tons of primary aluminum in the quarter, up from 198,543 metric tons shipped in the prior three months. But net sales dropped to $435.5 million from $438 million in the third quarter due to lower pricing.

Shares of Century Aluminum are down more than 55% over the past three years, as the company has been battered by falling metals prices due to trade wars, global economic weakness, and fear of a recession in the U.S.

Now what

CEO Michael Bless said in a statement that there is reason for optimism heading into 2020. Global metal inventories remain low, aluminum pricing has normalized, and power prices in the U.S. and Europe are on the decline. The coronavirus is a new risk and threatens to at least temporarily slow global economic activity, but the company hopes to see a benefit from the thawing of trade relations between the U.S. and China.

"The external environment improved during the last several months of 2019 and into early 2020," Bless said. "We had begun to see a pickup in industrial activity in several key global markets; the recently signed U.S./Sino trade agreement should support those trends."

A turnaround wasn't going to happen overnight, and the coronavirus adds a new layer of uncertainty. But Century seems to believe the markets have stabilized and could be beginning an upswing.