Alcoa kicks off earnings season with a mixed report

DALLAS - Alcoa (AA) lost $178 million in the first quarter as revenue fell on lower aluminum prices, but its profit beat expectations after excluding charges to idle capacity at aluminum smelters and mills. Alcoa is one of the first big U.S. companies (though no longer a component of the Dow Jones industrials index) to report its results every quarter, and it's widely watched for signs of how earnings season might fare.

The company said the price it was paid for aluminum dropped 8 percent from a year ago. Weak commodity prices are driving Alcoa to shift away from smelting. It's closing a smelter in New York state and another in Australia and cutting capacity at others in Brazil.

When those moves are complete, Alcoa will have shed 28 percent of its smelting capacity since 2007.

Instead, Alcoa is shifting its focus to selling more finished products for use in building aircraft, autos and other goods. Its engineered-products division posted a record first quarter. Some of those products, like a new lightweight wheel for heavy-duty trucks, are designed to appeal to companies and consumers who are looking for lighter, fuel-efficient vehicles.

Alcoa predicts that demand for aluminum in aircraft will grow by 8 percent or 9 percent this year, with smaller increases for metal used in construction and cars. Overall global aluminum demand will grow 7 percent this year, about the same as last year, the company says.

New York-based Alcoa said Tuesday that the first-quarter loss was 16 cents per share and compared with net income of $149 million, or 13 cents per share, in the same period last year.

The company said excluding write-downs to reduce smelting and milling capacity, it would have earned 9 cents per share. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected an adjusted profit of 5 cents per share.

Revenue fell 6.5 percent to $5.45 billion, below analysts' forecast of $5.57 billion.

Alcoa shares ended regular trading at $12.53, up 6 cents. In less than an hour of late trading after the first-quarter results were announced, the shares were up 29 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $12.82.