Right now, the aluminum giant could take on the world's woes and win.
Alcoa (AA +7.51%) against the world! Alcoa against 6% Spanish bond yields! Alcoa against the doubling of short-term Italian bill rates! Alcoa against Chinese inflation!
Can one company take on all of these forces of evil? One endlessly disappointing metals fabricator?
Well, kind of, yes.
Because we live in an odd serial world, one in which the last voice frequently wins.
And that last voice, that of Klaus Kleinfeld -- he, the honest, self-deprecating, worldly and, at times, just plain hilarious CEO of Alcoa -- is pretty darned persuasive.
Of course, on Wednesday he was helped by word from the ECB that all of those Spanish bonds bought patriotically by large Spanish banks won't fall by the wayside. Nor will the banks. It does take some guts of the German puppet masters to tell the Spanish to clean up their house without any incentives for growth and then tell their banks to take a hike. Good to see some justice over there on some issue other than the carbon tax. (It always helps when Deutsche Bank upgrades No. 2 Spanish bank Banco Bilbao, as it did Wednesday morning.)
But Klaus did a ton on his own. He made it clear that engineered products across the board -- Alcoa's bread and butter -- are doing quite well with good margins. That's clear from the fact that the company made money on the downstream even as raw costs remain high because of energy and labor, both of which are coming down. I knew someone would seize on the recent weakness in oil, and Klaus sure did.
- Aerospace is going to exceed growth plans with eight years of plane orders from Boeing and Airbus on the horizon. That's 8,400 aircraft on backlog with the likes of the A320 and B737 being all aluminum. We are now talking about a 13% to 14% increase in that aluminum business, which includes the dominant fastener biz (screws). Plus the business jet business, hurt so badly by President Barack Obama's critical, some would say reckless, comments, seems to be coming back.
- Auto growth is 12% in North America, up from 7%, which offsets the 8.3% decline in Europe and is augmented by China's single-digit growth. With oil prices so high, Klaus says, "lightweighting is the name of the game."
- Trucks are up 65%, even as there are some recent slowing and a reduction in backlog. Worth watching but definitely robust, even in China. Europe is down single digits.
- Beverage cans up 2% to 3%, slightly better than the industry itself.
- Industrial turbines up 1% to 2% but getting much stronger of late.
- Consumer electronics remain strong, which is, wink-wink, Apple. That's part of what Klaus calls the "aluminizing" of a whole sector, in part because of green desires -- remember, 75% of all aluminum is still in use because of recycling.The only weakness remains nonresidential construction, and that is truly worrisome, because that's where banks make money, particularly in the U.S. But that could be a tailwind with any help in U.S. confidence, because we haven't built anything in years in this country. We are in "no crane" territory in most urban areas.
How about my biggest worry, an increase in Chinese capacity? Klaus painstakingly went over how the Chinese simply can't pull off the expansion plans. There's not enough water -- aluminum smelting requires a ton -- where the cheap coal is. Add higher bauxite costs from Indonesia; that's the chatter about how mining exports should be taxed higher. He says it's just not an efficient way for the party to put people to work.
So Alcoa against the world? In the morning, Alcoa wins.
The afternoon is another day!
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