Alcoa: The Nature of the Beat

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Alcoa ( AA) reported earnings Monday and some of the media all but gave the aluminum giant a supporting lift, claiming they ran up the score. Bloomberg, for example, ran this headline: "Alcoa Beats Estimates As Carmakers Buy More Aluminum."

Got that? Alcoa beat estimates -- without any caveats. The lead echoed this implication that it was a meaningful beat:
Alcoa, the largest U.S. aluminum producer, reported second-quarter earnings and revenue that beat analysts' estimates after an increase in orders from the auto and aerospace industries.

The Associated Press went with a more fitting headline: "Alcoa's Revenue Falls 9% on Weak Aluminum Prices." Moreover, they told us right in the lead that results were "slightly" ahead of analysts' expectations.

Profit was 6 cents a share, vs. a 5-cent consensus. Revenue fell 9.4% to $5.96 billion, edging out the expected $5.81 billion.

Granted: a technical beat is better than none. But if we're really talking a beat in name only, the media should draw the distinction.

Here's the other important deal: Analysts had slashed and burned Alcoa estimates in recent weeks. The fact that Alcoa inched out a beat of wildly reduced expectations means more that analysts didn't have their scale calibrated right than business has reversed course and is thriving. Bloomberg did not deign to mention that; the Associated Press did, prominently.

Don't forget it: Not all beats are created equally.

At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page.

For his "Business Press Maven" column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Fuchs appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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