Alcoa earnings beat estimates as car sales boost aluminum demand

Alcoa Inc. (NYSE:AA), the largest U.S. aluminum producer, reported second-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ estimates as U.S. carmakers used more of the lightweight metal in their latest models.

The company’s net loss was 11 cents a share compared with break-even a year earlier, the New York-based company said in a statement today. Profit excluding expenses related to production cuts in Quebec and a legal settlement was 7 cents, beating the 6-cent average of 15 estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Sales fell to $5.85 billion, exceeding the $5.79 billion average of nine estimates.

Alcoa is boosting sales at its engineered- and rolled- products divisions as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Klaus Kleinfeld tries to reduce the company’s historical reliance on its aluminum-smelting business. At the same time, Americans are buying new cars and trucks at the fastest rate since 2007 and auto manufacturers are boosting aluminum consumption to meet tighter fuel-efficiency standards.

Sales of cars and light trucks in the U.S. climbed 8.8 percent to 4.14 million in the second quarter, according to researcher Autodata Corp.

Ford Motor Co.’s sales of its F-Series pickups, the country’s best-selling vehicle for 31 years, surged 24 percent to to 68,009 in June. Ford plans to cut as much as 750 pounds (340 kilograms) of weight from its heaviest vehicles, including F-Series, as it introduces new models, Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields said in January.

The aluminum industry’s shipments to carmakers will increase 20 percent this year to 5 billion pounds, according to Lloyd O’Carroll, a Richmond, Virginia-based analyst at Davenport & Co.

Earnings have risen over the past year at Alcoa’s flat- rolled and engineered-products units, its second- and third- biggest businesses by revenue. The company’s primary metals unit, its largest segment by sales, has struggled amid a decline in aluminum prices. Global aluminum production has exceeded demand for the past eight years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The first member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average to report quarterly results, Alcoa’s status as a bellwether for the stock market has diminished along with its clout and credit rating, Richard Moroney, editor of Dow Theory Forecasts newsletter said in June.

Investors are looking beyond Alcoa, which in the past 11 years has lost its position as the world’s largest metals company to BHP Billiton Ltd., Paul Hickey, co-founder of Bespoke Investment Group, said in April. Moody’s Investors Service cut its rating on Alcoa’s $8.6 billion of debt to junk in May.

Aluminum for delivery in three months, the most active contract on the London Metal Exchange, traded at $1,758 a metric ton on June 27, the lowest since July 2009.

Alcoa has confirmed the shutdown of 149,000 tons of capacity so far in 2013, on top of the 531,000 tons temporarily and permanently closed last year. It’s also reviewing about 11 percent of its aluminum-production capacity as Kleinfeld seeks to improve the company’s competitiveness.

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