After falling for most of the trading session, stocks rallied this afternoon to end the day solidly higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) gained 118 points, or 0.7%, and the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) rose by 15 points, or 0.8%.

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Fourth-quarter earnings season kicked off as investors reacted to aluminum giant Alcoa's (NYSE:AA) results, which surprised Wall Street. On the other hand, discount retailer Burlington Stores (NYSE:BURL) pleased shareholders with positive comments on its outlook for the coming year.

Alcoa's fourth-quarter results
Alcoa stock fell 9% and touched a new 52-week low after it posted fourth-quarter earnings results that showed more weakness in its primary metals business. Revenue dove 17% as minor upticks in aerospace products and in newly acquired businesses were overwhelmed by plunges in alumina and aluminum prices. Consensus estimates were holding out for a slightly better 16% sales drop.

Image source: Alcoa.

Alcoa reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $500 million, or $0.39 per share. That result was significantly affected by charges taken to lower capacity and exit unprofitable businesses. Adjusted net income weighed in at $65 million, or $0.04 per share, which was in line with expectations.

Management highlighted the fact that cost cuts improved efficiency in every segment of its business, lessening the sting from those collapsing metals prices. "Alumina prices dropped a further 24 percent [last quarter] and aluminum prices stayed stubbornly low," CEO Klaus Kleinfeld said in a press release. "We took aggressive actions: closed and curtailed more unprofitable capacity, accelerated productivity and weathered the storm," he said.

Meanwhile, plans are moving along for the company to separate into two public companies, "upstream," that focuses on primary metals, and "value-add" that includes engineered products for growth industries like automotive and aerospace. Shareholders will receive more details on the finances of these two new entities when Alcoa submits its Form 10 filing to the SEC sometime in the next six months.

Burlington's warm weather update
Burlington Stores, a discount clothing retailer, saw its stock spike 14% higher today following management's update on its fourth-quarter business results. Sales at existing locations are expected to come in flat over the holiday period, they said, while earnings will be roughly $1.45 per share.

Image source: Burlington Stores.

Both figures represent slight drops from the guidance that CEO Tom Kingsbury and his executive team issued in late November. At the time, Burlington had forecast 1% sales gains and profit of $1.46 per share.

Strong demand in its fragrance, bath and body, and home segments was overwhelmed by lower sales of coats and outerwear apparel as most of the country enjoyed an unseasonably warm December. "Accordingly, we now expect comparable-store sales to be approximately flat for the fourth quarter," Kingsbury said in a press release.

Sure, a lowered outlook seems like an odd reason for a retailer's stock to spike higher, but Burlington's update included two positive pieces of news for investors. First, its flat comps figure stacks up well against other companies: Macy's, for example, saw its comps sink by 5% over the holidays. And second, the general weakness in the apparel industry represents an opportunity for an off-price retailer like Burlington to snap up excess inventory at a significant discount.

That situation sets the company up for a potentially profitable year. In fact, management is "very excited about the abundance of merchandise available in the marketplace which is expected to positively impact 2016," Kingsbury said.