Aluminum company Alcoa (NYSE:AA) traditionally kicks off each earnings season, and last week's third-quarter report from the former member of the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) showed how the company has continued its transformation. Despite following the broader market lower, Alcoa's results pointed toward some promising possibilities for its future. Below are five of the most promising comments that Alcoa executives made in last week's conference call.
"[W]e had two multiyear contracts, both really very important contracts, one with Boeing and one with Pratt & Whitney. Every one of those more than a billion, so over $2 billion combined." --CEO Klaus Kleinfeld.
Part of Alcoa's longer-term strategy has been to add exposure to other important materials in the aerospace area besides aluminum. In that light, Alcoa's new contracts are extremely important. The contract with United Technologies (NYSE:UTX) division Pratt & Whitney involves engine materials, which will require Alcoa to use nickel and titanium, as well as aluminum, to fulfill its contract obligations. Meanwhile, Alcoa's deal with Boeing (NYSE:BA) to manufacture structural materials led directly to its opening a new facility in Indiana to produce aluminum-lithium, a lightweight alloy that could produce revenue from other aircraft manufacturers in the future as well.
These contracts debunk some fears that Alcoa would lose out to carbon-fiber and other materials technology. As Kleinfeld said, "metallic aircraft is here to stay," and Alcoa remains a go-to supplier for value-add metals in the industry.
"[W]hen you look at where we're spending our money this year, we're spending 90% of our growth capital in the [midstream] and the downstream. And a lot of that is going into North America." --CFO Bill Oplinger.
Some analysts believe Alcoa is vulnerable to a potential global economic slowdown. During the conference call, Kleinfeld acknowledged that the company already sees a slowdown baked into its larger projections for its end markets.
Yet Alcoa has done a good job of focusing on where growth is occurring. The company believes much of its growth next year will come from domestic operations, and it is investing in plants throughout the U.S. Between the booming U.S. auto industry and the backlogs in aerospace, Alcoa can afford to let the rest of the world ramp down on growth slightly as long as its domestic business remains strong.
"We're building out our value-add, and we're building it out in a way that we create a lightweight multimaterial innovation powerhouse. ... And at the same time, on the upstream side, we are creating a globally competitive commodity business. We're reducing our cost position." -- Kleinfeld.
The remarkable thing about Alcoa's strength has been that it has come from all quarters. Improving prices for aluminum products helped Alcoa considerably during the quarter, in a way that Kleinfeld and Oplinger see as unlikely to recur in the near future. But moves to make its commodity business more profitable only make aluminum-price increases even more beneficial, and staying competitive on the cost side is key for the company's upstream business.
At the same time, though, Alcoa expects strength in many of its value-add areas. From aerospace to automotive, heavy trucks, and building and construction, Alcoa has plenty of opportunities to push its growth forward.
"One comment on Ford, Ford has publicly said that they are bringing the F-150 into the showrooms in the fourth quarter. So then that's when you'll see the volumes, as well as the profitability coming through." -- Kleinfeld.
Ever since Ford (NYSE:F) announced that its all-new 2015 F-150 pickup truck would move away from traditional materials toward an aluminum body, Alcoa investors have had high hopes that the new vehicle would create an industrywide shift toward greater use of aluminum. Certainly, if fuel standards continue to rise, lighter-weight materials will be an easy way to boost efficiency. Yet some still worry customers won't believe in the long-term durability of aluminum-body vehicles compared to steel, so the jury is still out on whether the automotive sector will produce as much growth for Alcoa as bullish investors hope.
"The transformation delivers. We're driving profitability. We're expanding our margin in materials leadership in major growth markets. We're capturing growth through innovation and smart investments. We're creating a globally competitive commodity business." -- Kleinfeld.
In total, Kleinfeld sees Alcoa's opportunities as painting a strong picture for the company at large. During the aluminum-price slump, some investors wondered whether Alcoa's emphasis on maintaining integrated production of both upstream, midstream, and downstream materials made sense. Yet Alcoa has made progress on all three fronts during its turnaround, and that should put the company in a strong position for further improvements down the road.
Alcoa's results were solid, and management is quite optimistic about the company's future prospects. As long as aerospace and other key markets remain healthy, Alcoa will have years' worth of business to execute on in order to keep growing.