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Alcoa Inc. Turns 1Q Profit On Stronger Sales

Aluminum manufacturer turned a first-quarter profit on stronger sales with higher prices that were offset by a weaker dollar and higher costs for energy and raw materials.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Alcoa Inc. said Monday that it turned a first-quarter profit on stronger sales with higher aluminum prices that were offset by a weaker dollar and higher costs for energy and raw materials.

Alcoa said business improved from a range of customers; including the aerospace, automotive, commercial transportation and packaging industries. It marked the fourth consecutive quarterly profit for Alcoa as it pulled out of two difficult years hit by the recession.

The Pittsburgh aluminum manufacturer reaffirmed its guidance for 12 percent growth in global aluminum demand despite ongoing uncertainty in many countries, including China's efforts to slow growth and curb inflation.

Alcoa Chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld said the company improved profitability across all business segments and he is optimistic for 2011 and beyond.

"I think Wall Street will take it as a positive," Argus Research analyst Bill Selesky said. "I think this is going to be a good barometer for the upcoming earnings season."

Alcoa is the first of the Dow Jones Industrial Average component companies to report quarterly earnings. Selesky expects most companies to have higher raw materials costs. He said Alcoa should be able to offset much of that with higher aluminum prices and stronger demand.

Alcoa's first-quarter net income was $308 million, or 27 cents a share, compared with a net loss of $201 million, or 20 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter.

Sales increased to $5.96 billion from $4.89 billion a year ago. That fell short of expectations from analysts, who expected sales of $6.16 billion, according to FactSet. Excluding special items, Alcoa earned 28 cents per share. That beat analysts' forecasts by a penny.

Alcoa's year-over-year sales rose 20 percent in the aerospace industry, 45 percent in packaging, 37 percent in commercial transportation, 26 percent in building and construction, and 5 percent in automotive.

For the year, Alcoa expects growth in all segments — especially industrial gas turbines, heavy truck and trailer and automotive industries. It sees weakest growth in beverage cans and commercial building and construction.

Alcoa's overall sales have risen 43.6 percent since the first quarter of 2009, a low point when the recession slowed the global economy and cut sales across most of its markets.

Kleinfeld's upbeat outlook for the rest of this year follows recent positive economic data that indicate the U.S. economy continues to recover. Last week automakers reported new cars sales in March were up 17 percent from a year ago. And the Commerce Department reported the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter, up from 2.6 percent in the third quarter.

Alcoa said average aluminum prices rose about 15 percent during the quarter, but earnings were affected by a weaker dollar against other currencies and higher raw materials costs.

Alcoa released earnings after the market closed. Shares fell 61 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $17.16 in after-hours trading.