When that news comes, however, investors just might find themselves asking why they waited for it in the first place. No one seems to be expecting good news out of Alcoa -- at least not tomorrow.
Granted, analysts profess a lot of love for Alcoa. Out of the 21 Wall Street analysts who cover the firm, 13 rate Alcoa a "buy," and just eight call it a "hold" or lower. But this is based more on what they expect the company to accomplish next year than on what they think it achieved in Q4 2005. The consensus is that tomorrow, Alcoa will report a year-over-year decline in quarterly earnings to $0.37 per share, roughly matching the firm's predicted 5% decline in revenues.
Continued high energy prices (smelting metal uses a lot of BTUs) and increased raw materials costs contribute to the pessimistic outlook. In its conference call last quarter, the firm revealed that it has been able to pass some, but not all, of these costs on to its customers. As a result, gross margins declined year over year in each of the past five quarters, and net margins declined in four of those quarters. To combat this trend, Alcoa has been moving some of its operations to locales offering readier supplies of affordable energy: Russia and Trinidad, for example. At the same time, the firm has been closing plants that cost too much to operate.
Back in November, Alcoa warned investors to expect a $14 million pre-tax charge to its fourth-quarter earnings numbers, due to the firm's decision to "curtail" production at its Eastalco aluminum smelter in Frederick, Md. Alcoa simply can't find the affordable energy needed to run the facility. (Curtail, incidentally, appears to mean "mothball." Alcoa isn't closing down or selling the plant -- just halting production there until energy prices fall a bit.) On a per-share basis, the pre-tax charge should reduce the quarter's fully taxed earnings per share by about $0.01.
In time, these actions should get Alcoa's profits growing again. The analysts' recommendations seem based on their expectation that the firm will begin turning things around in 2006, and that profits will surge an amazing 26%. Will it happen? Tune in next January to find out.
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Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in Alcoa.