If aluminum giant and Dow Jones Industrials component Alcoa Inc. (NYSE: AA) kicks off the third-quarter earnings season Tuesday after market close with disappointing results, will it set an ominous trend as more big companies prepare to release their latest results?
Wall Street expects Alcoa to barely eke out a profit of a penny per share when it reports, setting the stage for what could turn out to be one of the worst U.S. quarterly earnings season since late 2009.
The company's 2011 third-quarter net income was $172 million, or 15 cents a share, on revenue of $6.42 billion.
Pittsburgh-based Alcoa is seen as a barometer for global manufacturing, with its products used by construction firms, airlines, automakers and home-appliance manufacturers.
The new iPhone 5 from Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) has an aluminum case. Estimates are for as many as 55 million of them to be sold by Dec. 31.
Analysts expect earnings for the period ended September to decline, the first negative result after 11 consecutive quarters of gains.
So the big question is: Do the results from Alcoa have any predictive value on the rest of the earnings season?
Over the past 10 years, Alcoa has reported quarterly results that beat analysts’ expectations about half of the time. In the quarters Alcoa exceeded estimates, the S&P 500 (INDEXSP: .INX) has averaged a 3.9 percent gain over the next three months, according to FactSet.
When the company misses expectations, the S&P 500 has averaged a 0.6 percent decline over the same period.
But more recent history suggests that what’s been a good or bad quarter for Alcoa hasn’t really affected everybody else.
Since 2009, the times Alcoa missed Wall Street’s earnings projections, 72.4 percent of the companies in the S&P 500 still topped the consensus profit estimate, 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.
Both the U.S. and Chinese economies are slowing, while Europe remains engulfed in the sovereign debt crisis. But U.S. car sales are strong, and Apple has a sellout with the iPhone 5.
In the second quarter, many companies in the S&P 500 index reported lower revenue growth outside of the U.S. relative to recent years due to weak economic growth in Europe, less favorable foreign exchange rates and slower economic growth in emerging markets. These conditions probably will continue to dampen revenue and earnings growth in the third quarter.
About three-fourths of Alcoa’s sales are in the U.S. and Europe.
Shares of Alcoa Inc. (NYSE: AA) rose 2 cents, to $9.11 in Monday’s afternoon trading. They've gained about 5 percent this year compared to more than 11 percent for the Dow Jones Industrials.