Does Alcoa Inc (AA) Really Set The Tone For Earnings Season?

 @moranzhang
on April 06 2013 5:03 PM

Alcoa Inc. (NYSE:AA), the largest aluminum producer in the U.S., will kick off this earnings season when it announces its first-quarter results after the market closes Monday. Alcoa’s results are closely eyed as it usually is the first Dow company to post earnings.

Analysts expect Alcoa to record soft earnings. The company's recent results have been hampered by persistently low aluminum prices, due in part to weak demand in Europe.

Wall Street forecasts Alcoa will report a lower profit of 8 cents per share for the first quarter of its fiscal year on revenue of $5.89 billion. Last year, the company's first-quarter net income was $105 million, or 10 cents per share, on revenue of $6.01 billion.

New York-based Alcoa is seen as a barometer for global manufacturing, with its products used by airlines, automakers, construction firms and home-appliance makers.

Investors typically focus on the company's forecasts for the aluminum market, and they will be watching for any updates to cautiously optimistic forecasts given last quarter.

In its 2012 annual earnings call, Alcoa’s management had made 2013 growth projections of 9 percent to 10 percent for the aerospace segment, 4 percent for the U.S. automotive segment and 12 percent to 19 percent for the Chinese automotive segment. Also, the company had predicted a 7 percent growth rate for aluminum demand this year, compared with a 6 percent growth rate for it last year.

But aluminum prices on the London Metal Exchange, used as a benchmark by Alcoa to determine its own prices, have been dropping sharply since the latter part of February. Prices have dropped to less than $1,850 per metric ton from about $2,100 per metric ton, and they are still trending lower.

Also, aluminum inventory continues to remain high relative to demand, keeping a lid on LME prices for aluminum.

So, it all prompts the question: Do Alcoa’s results have any predictive value for the remainder of the earnings season?

Over the past 10 years, Alcoa has reported quarterly results that beat analysts’ expectations about one-half of the time. In the quarters Alcoa exceeded estimates, the S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) has averaged a 4.4 percent gain over the next three months, according to FactSet. When the company misses expectations, the S&P 500 has averaged a 0.9 percent decline over the same period, FactSet reported.

But more recent history suggests that what’s been a good or bad quarter for Alcoa hasn’t really affected other companies.

Since 2009, the times when Alcoa missed Wall Street’s earnings projections, 72.6 percent of the companies in the S&P 500 still topped their consensus profit estimates, according to FactSet.

“It appears that Alcoa’s earnings performance relative to estimates has little predictive value in determining the earnings performance of the remaining companies in the index,” FactSet senior earnings analyst John Butters wrote.

Earnings forecasts have been scaled back heading into first-quarter reports. Analysts project profits at S&P 500 companies have risen just 1.6 percent from a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters, compared with 6.2 percent last quarter.

The quarter also has seen an unusually high number of negative warnings, with 107 negative revisions for companies in the S&P 500. Compared with the positive revisions, it is the worst pace in 12 years, according to Thomson Reuters.

Aside from Alcoa, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM), Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE:WFC), Constellation Brands Inc. (NYSE:STZ), Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (NASDAQ:BBBY), Rite Aid Corp. (NYSE:RAD), CarMax Inc. (NYSE:KMX), Family Dollar Stores Inc. (NYSE:FDO) and Pier 1 Imports Inc. (NYSE:PIR) are scheduled to release earnings results during the week.

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