Alcoa Inc. (NYSE: AA) opened third-quarter earnings season Tuesday by posting a $143 million net loss after one-time charges. As noted earlier, what’s been a good or bad quarter for the No. 1 U.S. aluminum producer hasn’t really affected everybody else. That said, the company’s conference call is generally worth digging into.
Pittsburgh-based Alcoa is a barometer for global manufacturing because its products are needed by construction companies, airlines, automakers and appliance manufacturers. Few companies can report on a more diverse array of products and sectors.
In the usual fashion, CEO Klaus Kleinfeld went from industry to industry in his detailed overview of Alcoa’s growth prospects during a call with analysts on Tuesday. But he said the No. 1 aluminum producer has already seen China orders fall, with the outlook getting worse this quarter.
Overall, Kleinfeld sees positive growth in most of Alcoa’s end markets, but his predictions for full-year 2012 are more of a mixed bag.
Global Aerospace. This market remains solid at a 13 percent to 14 percent growth rate compared with the same period in 2011, supported by the continued strong performance in the large commercial aircraft segment. The backlog is currently 8,500 planes, or eight years’ work.
Automotive. In the automotive market, Kleinfeld forecasts 11 percent to 15 percent annual growth in North America. Auto sales remain a bright spot in a weak recovery, jumping 13 percent in September to a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 14.9 million units. That’s the best showing since March 2008.
Automotive in Europe continues to decline. The market could decline in a range between 4 percent and 9 percent by year's end, the CEO said.
China looks more stable in the automotive segment. Sales are up 9 percent in a year-on-year basis, and Alcoa expects 4 percent to 7 percent growth in 2012.
Heavy Truck & Trailer. Alcoa has lowered its expectations in each of the markets, with ultimately a decline of 7 percent to 9 percent. This is substantially down from the minus 3 percent to the plus 1 percent that Alcoa expected in the second quarter.
On the North American side, the truck fleet is pretty old, at 6.6 years now, compared with a 20-year average of 5.8 years. So there is a replacement pressure. But the smaller and the medium-size operators are pushing their orders out due to general economic worries.
On the European heavy trucks and trailers side, the registration estimates for the third quarter are down 18 percent from the second quarter. Original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, are reducing production, and Alcoa expects to see a contraction of 8 percent to 11 percent.
In China, heavy trucks and trailer registration fell by 17 percent from the first quarter to the second quarter, and August and July even looked worse. So Alcoa expects production cuts by the OEMs in China to be around 24 percent from the second to the third quarter.
Beverage Can Packaging. “We don’t want to revise our growth expectations for Europe and China, but global growth basically stays at the same 2 percent to 3 percent rate, and that’s possible given the relative size of these other markets compared to North America, and North America is actually pretty good and actually looked a little better than what we originally expected,” Kleinfeld said.
Commercial Building and Construction. Alcoa’s outlook on this sector hasn’t changed. “On the U.S. side, the Architectural Building Index is hovering around the midpoint, and the recent number in August turned positive, but before, they were four months down, and that was preceded by five month up, so you get a few toward a pretty fragile environment,” Kleinfeld said.
On top of it, the Architectural Building Index is considered an early indicator. It generally takes 12 months to 15 months for this to become billings and revenues in the market.
Industrial Gas Turbines. On industrial gas turbines, Alcoa continues to view the segment as very positive and strongly supported by the increased attractiveness of gas.
Shares of Alcoa fell 40 cents to $8.73 in midday trading, bringing their gain this year to barely 1 percent.