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Why Alcoa Inc.'s Shares Fell 26% in January

By Reuben Gregg Brewer - Feb 6, 2016 at 8:02AM

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Alcoa felt the heat in January; blame it on earnings.

What: Alcoa's (AA) shares fell a hair more than 26% last month. Essentially, the aluminum and parts manufacturer lost a quarter of its value. Ouch!

So what: Aloca is one of the first companies to report earnings each quarter, and this year released its fourth-quarter and full-year results on Jan. 11. The shares slid along with the market up to that point, since investors pretty much expected weak results in the company's Upstream business. That segment makes aluminum, which is just as troubled a market as most other commodities. In fact, as Alcoa prepares to split this business off from its parts business (referred to as its "Value Add" business) it has been curtailing production and closing plants in an effort to deal with falling prices.

The thing is, when Alcoa reported earnings, not only was the Upstream business weak, as expected, but there were signs of trouble in the Value Add business, too. Revenues in the latter were off by 3% from the third quarter, after tax operating income fell 16%, and adjusted EBITDA was down by almost 12%. This is supposed to be Alcoa's best business -- no wonder investors weren't pleased when results suggested a weakening trend. This helps explain why the shares kept on sliding after the earnings announcement.

Now what: There are a lot of moving parts at Alcoa as it heads toward a big corporate makeover. That said, it's working hard to get both of its businesses in fighting shape. True, the fourth quarter was weak overall, but it also contained good news, like some big new contracts in the aerospace arena (around 40% of Value Add's business) that should boost future results.

The thing is, Mr. Market is taking a particularly dour view on Alcoa right now. Which means you have to ask, "How bad is the company's business, really?" For example, Alcoa's market cap is a fraction of its annual sales, suggesting it may be cheap right now, and excluding one-time items, it actually earned a few cents in the quarter. So, perhaps things aren't as bleak as January's price performance suggests. And with the pending breakup scheduled for later this year, contrarian investors might want to dig a little deeper here.

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