If you look closely at Alcoa's (NYSE:AA) busy 2007, it'd be relatively easy to assume that the company's 2008 could bring even bigger changes. Indeed, after being involved in a failed acquisition effort, the company is ending the year by trimming a host of ancillary operations. It therefore appears to be reaching a fighting trim that could thrust it back into the merger wars -- on one side or the other.

As last week ended, it was announced that Alcoa would take $2.7 billion from New Zealand's privately held Rank Group for its packaging and consumer businesses. The units involved in the cash transaction manufacture plastic and aluminum packaging for food and personal care items, along with turning out pouch and blister packaging, shrink labels, and foil lids.

Collectively, they employ about 10,000 workers in a couple of dozen countries, and generate after-tax income of about $95 million from about $3.2 billion in revenue. With closing expected next quarter, Alcoa will apply the proceeds to upgrades of its core businesses.

Last month, Alcoa completed the sale of its automotive castings business. That sale, along with the newly announced jettisoning of the packaging units, follows an effort earlier this year to acquire its Canadian aluminum manufacturer rival, Alcan. The target company ultimately spurned Alcoa's cash and stock overtures in favor of a much larger all-cash offer from London-based mining giant Rio Tinto (NYSE:RTP).

With the rapid industrialization of China, India, and some other developing nations, the metals and mining sector has been growing quickly in importance to those countries. At the same time, the sector is becoming a hotbed of takeover activity. In addition to the Alcan purchase, copper producers Freeport McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) and Phelps Dodge joined forces earlier this year, and Rio Tinto itself is currently the subject of a slow-moving acquisition effort by Australian mining and energy giant BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP).

So, while I'm not predicting that Alcoa will become the object of a buyout offer -- or a suitor again -- during 2008, I believe that the company's trimming of non-core assets and the application of resulting funds toward core areas could render it more attractive, whether as the hunter or the prey.

On that basis alone, to say nothing of its nearly 2% dividend yield and its key position in a significant metals market, I'd urge Fools to find a prominent spot for it on their investment watch lists.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a well-mined disclosure policy.