How to Trade Alcoa: Dive in Headfirst If AA Falls Under $8.60

Alcoa (NYSE:AA) has been riding both weak expectations and a strong track record of earnings beats lately. So there’s reason to expect another good quarter from the aluminum maker despite global economic troubles and an admittedly glum bottom line.

Specifically, according to Wall Street experts, profits (excluding one-time charges) will be just 6 cents a share. That’s a profit — but an increasingly smaller one, according to analyst targets. EPS forecasts 90 days ago were averaging 12 cents a share, 60 days ago they were 11 cents, and 30 days ago they were 10 cents a share.

It’s also a drop of more than 80% from Q2 of 2011.

The reasons are obvious: In the past 30 days, aluminum traded near a two-year low. Lower aluminum prices mean lower profits.

Judging by the waning momentum, it could be a bad day for Alcoa stock tomorrow. Shares already are edging lower in early trading before today’s after-the-bell earnings report.

However, investors might want to consider snapping up some Alcoa on the dip here.

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This kind of cyclical boom-and-bust cycle is par for the course for materials stocks — especially in the past few years. Take a look at this chart and the following descriptions of crazy volatility in AA shares and note one thing: It has not broken below the $8.50 mark for long since the 2009 crash following the financial crisis.

The flop in 2009 was logical. Losses were brutal as economic activity slowed. Demand slumped, oversupply drove down prices and revenue lurched more than 30% lower from 2008 to 2009.

But Alcoa responded and is a very different company now. Fundamentals have been improving, and Alcoa is soundly back on profitable ground. Fiscal 2012 revenue could top fiscal 2008 numbers if all goes well, and a restructuring has beaten back debts and made the company more agile.

There are causes for concern this quarter, of course. The 80% year-over-year drop in profits can’t be discounted — and the top line also is suffering, with a small reduction in revenue expected after nine consecutive quarters of improving year-over-year sales before this report.

Alcoa Revenue (in millions)
Year Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Full Year
2012 $6,006
2011 $5,958 $6,585 $6,419 $5,989 $24,951
2010 $4,887 $5,187 $5,287 $5,652 $21,013
2009 $4,147 $4,244 $4,615 $5,433 $18,439
2008 $6,998 $7,245 $6,970 $5,688 $26,901

But I remain convinced that Alcoa is returning to favor, and that this cyclical materials stock is a good buy on any pullback today or tomorrow.

I, of course, have a vested interest in AA stock. Back in December, Alcoa was my pick for the best stock of 2012. I also personally own shares of the company, bought at $8.65 way back at the beginning of the year. AA stock is only a teensy bit higher in early trading today, excluding dividends, but I like its prospects.

Alcoa could surprise us with a strong report that beats very low expectations. That’s what it did in April, when Wall Street expected a small loss and Alcoa impressed investors with a profit.

But dimming expectations this time mean a pullback could be likely. That means an opportunity for investors looking to play the resurgence in this cyclical stock.

My long-term investment in Alcoa is depending on a broader economic recovery, and that hasn’t happened. Thus, many materials stocks have taken a beating.

But I remain convinced this is overdone. Consider steel stock ArcelorMittal (NYSE:MT) hasn’t traded this low since 2004!

Things are bad, but they aren’t that bad. If you’re a swing trader, you can realistically hope for a 10% to 20% pop in a matter of weeks — or if you’re a buy-and-hold type in it for the dividends, you can hang on waiting for the eventual recovery knowing that you are entering at or near the floor.

Jeff Reeves is the editor of and the author of “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks.” Write him at or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, Jeff Reeves owned a position in AA.

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