The stock market continued to see crosscurrents on Wednesday morning, as investors tried to figure out what direction stocks are likely to go during the rest of 2021. Although 2020's gains were extremely robust among many stocks, market participants are looking to cash in on the companies whose shares largely got neglected last year. That helped send the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.23%) to a gain of 336 points to 32,759 by 11 a.m. EDT today. The S&P 500 (^GSPC 0.80%) rose 23 points 3,934, but the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC 1.14%) slid by 18 points to 13,210.

You didn't have to go too far down the alphabet to find big winners on Wednesday. In fact, two companies among the first in alphabetical order found themselves moving sharply higher. Let's look more closely to find out what helped shares of Alcoa (AA 1.73%) and AAR (AIR -0.24%) climb Wednesday morning and what it means for the rest of the market.

Red A+ with circle around it, on lined paper.

Image source: Getty Images.

Alcoa looks strong

Alcoa was up almost 11% Wednesday morning. The aluminum producer always gets attention as a bellwether of the industrial economy, and it has increasingly played a role in helping electric vehicle (EV) companies keep their models as light as possible.

Driving Alcoa's gains today were favorable comments from analysts at Morgan Stanley. The Wall Street analyst company boosted its rating on Alcoa from equal weight to overweight, setting a price target of $43 on the stock. Morgan Stanley said that aluminum looks like a highly favorable commodity market, especially as the lightweight metal's use in sustainable production becomes more important. Although many economists see copper as the most important indicator of the strength of the industrial economy, aluminum now plays a big role in high-value-added manufacturing.

The aluminum market has been so strong that China recently pondered tapping its state-owned reserves to provide additional supply and bring price increases under control. It's unclear whether the Chinese government will move forward with sales of as much as a half-million metric tons of aluminum, but the report nevertheless stresses high demand for the metal.

As long as companies try to keep their products light, aluminum will be in demand, and that will drive Alcoa's business forward. Even though the stock is up fivefold in a year, Alcoa could move higher along with the EV industry and other demand drivers.

AAR flies higher

Elsewhere, shares of AAR jumped almost 10%. The global aerospace and defense producer of aftermarket products reported fiscal third-quarter financial results that weren't pretty but nevertheless pointed toward a solid recovery.

Predictably, AAR's results reflected the impact of the pandemic. Revenue for the quarter was down 26% from year-earlier levels. Adjusted earnings per share of $0.37 were down 45% year over year. Weakness in the commercial sector weighed heavily on AAR, with segment sales falling 42% compared to this time last year. But sales to government customers were up 4%, helping to stabilize the company's top line.

CEO John Holmes also pointed to AAR's success in keeping its margins strong. Even excluding the help from CARES Act payroll support, both gross margin and operating margin moved sharply higher during the fiscal third quarter compared to where they were three months ago.

The aerospace industry still has a long way to go before it can fully get back to normal, and that might not even happen until after 2021. For now, though, AAR investors are happy to see signs of a recovery start to take shape, and they're excited about the future.