When we last looked at aluminum admiral Norsk Hydro (OTC BB: NHYDY.PK), the company was getting hosed on account of weaker output and prices. Now that the full-year results are in, let's see where the company stands today.

In the fourth quarter, alumina and primary aluminum production were both solid. In dollar terms, price realizations were just fine, but the dollar's drop versus the Norwegian krone has done Hydro a disservice. Higher energy costs added to the alumina segment's troubles, whereas refined aluminum's underlying operating income largely held its ground.

Aluminum products had a very difficult year. In the fourth quarter, rolled products were, ahem, dicey. Comprising everything from foil to lithographic coil, rolled products did worse than come in flat -- they joined the automotive segment in the loss-makers' club. Faring better was extrusion, despite the U.S. construction market's contusion. Adjusted pre-tax operating income, or EBIT, was actually up 8% in the quarter.

Now as a general rule, it's Foolish to remain skeptical when management teams start throwing around non-GAAP figures like EBITDA or, in Hydro's case, "underlying EBIT." Unlike the late-'90s darlings who reported big EBITDA numbers while burning cash, however, Hydro is cranking out the kroner.

Also, while the company's various adjustments to its earnings make the quarterly figures look better in isolation, most year-over-year comparisons become less favorable. For example, Hydro's reported per-share earnings from continuing operations show an improvement of 57% for the year, whereas the adjusted or underlying figure is actually flat. I take it as a sign of good faith that management is willing to downplay its overstated results.

The themes in aluminum that I've noted in the past are still intact, and have recently been cast in even sharper relief. Aluminum Corp. of China (NYSE: ACH) and other Chinese producers have been steadily curtailing their exports of the energy-intensive metal, and recent winter power outages were surely an additional wake-up call for the nation. Alcan has been swallowed up by Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP), so that leaves Hydro and Century Aluminum (Nasdaq: CENX) as two renewably powered players poised to profit. Hydro's net cash position makes it perhaps the more attractive of the pair.

Further Foolishness:

  • It's been intriguing to watch Hydro's future unfold.
  • Finding miners too hard to value? Try this pick-and-shovel play.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.