Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Alcoa Kicks off Earnings Season With Weakness

Alcoa $AA gave results and its always interesting to look at them and do some equity research analysis because it is a bellwether for the upcoming US earnings season. Alcoa is also a key cyclical stock that gave good forward guidance as to where the economy is headed. No need to dwell too long on the earnings because most investors will know that they missed –already reduced- analyst EPS forecasts. Alcoa reported 15c in EPS against a forecast of 22c. The commentary on the conference call also confirmed the weakness in the global economy and, interestingly, seemed to confirm that this mainly caused by corporation holding back expenditure in the face of macro economic uncertainty.

Alcoa Earnings

 The macro issues will be put aside for the moment, but for now, it’s useful to look at what was said about Alcoa’s end markets. The following table is derived from the presentation and indicates year-on-year growth by semester and region. The regional split is not available for aerospace and industrial gas turbines.

N America

    -4%     12%
4%       0%
14%       -16%
    2 %        2%
    -4%        4%
Heavy Truck Trailer
28%    23%
14%       -11%
     5%     -24%
   10%     -14%
Beverage Can
0%     -2 to -3%
 6%         2-3%
10-15%  15-20%   
   2-3%    2-3%
Commercial Cons
-9%    -3 to -4%
-4%     -2 to -4%
Industrial Gas Turbine


So what are the key takeaways and conclusions from Alcoa’s earning report?

  • Europe is weak across the board and this is a consequence of macro economic uncertainty
  • Aerospace looks strong going forward as commercial jet deliveries are forecast to grow at 9% CAGR until 2014
  • European automotive looks like it is falling off a cliff but global growth is accelerating thanks to China automotive sector
  • Industrial turbine growth remains solid
  • Beverage looks attractive because global growth looks solid and their appears to be a structural story in China as the consumer shifts to using cans

Given these factors, any stock that is a user of aluminum and has it as a major part of its fixed costs could see margin expansion and increased profitability if their end markets hold up. So for example, beverage can manufacturers like Rexam, Crown Holdings $CCK or Ball Corp $BLL could do well. Rexam tends to hedge a lot so it might not be the best stock to play this theme but the other two are worth a look provided their emerging market exposure is good. Similarly, aerospace manufacturers and suppliers to Boeing and Airbus could also see margin expansion.

Of course, all of this is predicated on continued weakness in aluminum prices…

Aluminum - Monthly Price - Commodity Prices - Price Charts, Data, and News - IndexMundi

…and given slowing global growth, this could be a safe assumption. The one area of circumspection in Alcoa’s report related to China and commercial construction. If the likes of Jim Chanos are right in their bearish predictions of a major slowdown in China’s residential and commercial construction market then things could get nasty for Alcoa.

Alcoa Reports Slowing Growth in Europe

Another key conclusion from this report is how badly Europe is faring. This will particularly affect Germany because it is heavily exposed to heavy machinery Capex. Indeed, the Dax has performed very badly this year and, it is safe to conclude that a satisfactory resolution to the Euro zone debt crisis is very much in their interest.

As the Alcoa CEO, Klaus Kleinfeld said in the conference call..

I guess that's all the time we have today. Let me sum it up. I mean, we've seen strength in many of our markets despite the sharp slowdown in Europe that hurt our sequential results. And I'm, as I just said, more concerned about the lack of confidence than about market fundamentals. It almost looks like the world is worrying itself into another recession and that should not be allowed to happen.
I think the problems that we have today, I mean, around Europe and some of the discussions here, I think are all problems that can be solved. And I hope the solutions get accelerated and we'll be able to restore confidence. Confidence, I said many times, is the air, the oxygen that every economy needs to grow.
…it really is all about returning confidence to the markets.