It seems that we'll need to wait for a real trend to be established regarding the latest earnings direction of major U.S. corporations. Alcoa (NYSE:AA) did report its results on Tuesday -- as usual becoming the first Dow Jones Industrial Average company to do so -- and while it exceeded expectations, it nevertheless dropped below the prior year's level, albeit for generally identifiable reasons.

For the quarter, the company earned $546 million, or $0.66 per share, compared with last year's $715 million, or $0.81 a share. The analysts who follow the company had anticipated that the per-share line would come in about two pennies lower.

A couple of events stripped $39 million from the company's results for the most recent quarter: About $17 million was cut by an Apache Energy (NYSE:APA) natural gas pipeline explosion in western Australia. And then power difficulties in Texas hurt net income to the tune of about $22 million. With the exception of a new smelter in Iceland, Alcoa's facilities tend to be located in places where energy, utility, and general operating costs are highest.

And while Alcoa, like Rio Tinto (NYSE:RTP) and other aluminum producers, is ramping up efforts to control costs, the company also sits amid an industry whose demand levels are expected to grow globally by about 6% this year. Further, it's operating in a sector that for some time has been rife with consolidation. Indeed, along with copper, gold, and molybdenum producer Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX), it has been mentioned as a possible acquisition target for Brazil's mining giant, Vale (NYSE:RIO).

So there you have the first shot out of the cannon for the new earnings season. All things considered, given the expanding role of the resources sector and Alcoa's position in it, I'm inclined to suggest that Fools keep an eye on the company. And beyond that, I'll be watching ever so closely in the days and weeks ahead for confirmation of economic and earnings trends -- both in the U.S. and abroad -- from other fellow big industrials such as Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) and DuPont (NYSE:DD).  

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