If you caught yesterday's piece on Statoil's (NYSE:STO) quarterly results, you might be wondering why I'm bothering to review the performance of Norsk Hydro (NYSE:NHY). After all, the two companies are soon merging to form an offshore oil and gas powerhouse, no? Well, yes, but Norsk Hydro also happens to be an aluminum company, and it will remain strictly so after it sells off its oil and energy segment.

Understanding the future of Norsk Hydro's operating structure is critical to evaluating the company's quarter. Sure, earnings per share rose 15.4% over last year, but that was largely due to divestitures and tax benefits. EBIT, defined by international accounting standards as earnings before financial items and tax, was actually down 12.1%. But when you consider the performance of the aluminum business, the market's positive reaction to these results suddenly makes sense.

Aluminum prices have gone pretty gonzo over the past couple of years in response to global demand, particularly in China. Norsk also notes the influence of "financial investors" -- a kind euphemism for "speculators" -- on price fluctuations. Realizations were up 21% over last year, in stark contrast to Norsk's 8% and 12% declines for oil and gas, respectively.

That mostly explains the aluminum business's huge cash flow gains this quarter, particularly in the downstream business, which refers to sales of end-user products rather than the production of primary aluminum. There has also been a major restructuring effort under way in the aluminum business, and the segment's strong results considerably reassured investors that the changes are going smoothly.

The markets even speculate that Norsk will make a bid for Canadian rival Alcan (NYSE:ALC). Perhaps "frenemy" is a more apt description of Alcan, since such a move would come as a "white knight" bid to block Alcoa's (NYSE:AA) hostile takeover. Norsk and Alcan could make for an interesting tie-up, but even without that possibility, Norsk's stand-alone aluminum business seems unlikely to corrode, so long as global demand keeps up.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. Norsk Hydro is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Motley Fool has a ductile disclosure policy.