TheStreet) -- Shares of Alcoa ( AA) were getting a lift in late trades after the Dow component reported a surprise quarterly profit, kicking off earnings season in high style. Excluding one-time items, the aluminum giant posted earnings from continuing operations of $32 million, or 3 cents a share, in its fiscal third quarter ended Sept. 30 with sales totaling $5.83 billion, which is down from $6.42 billion a year ago. The average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters was for breakeven results on a per share basis on sales of $5.54 billion in the September-ended period. The above-consensus performance on the top line came despite a sequential decline in realized aluminum prices of 5%. "Markets seem to be driven more by headlines than fundamentals right now, but Alcoa remains focused on the things within our control," said Klaus Kleinfeld, the company's chairman and CEO, in a statement. "We're capitalizing on pockets of strong growth and achieving record profitability in our mid and downstream businesses. We're improving performance in the upstream while optimizing our assets, and across the board we're driving productivity gains." Alcoa, which said it remains "on track" to meet its financial and operational targets for 2012, attributed the strong performance in the third quarter to "continued strong productivity growth across the upstream and downstream segments this quarter, driven by higher utilization rates, process innovations, lower scrap rates, and usage reductions." Including $175 million in special items related to environmental remediation of the Grasse River in New York State, and the settlement of a civil lawsuit, Alcoa reported a loss from continuing operations of $143 million, or 13 cents a share, for the latest quarter. The stock was last quoted at $9.19, up 0.66%, on extended volume of more than 1.9 million, according to Nasdaq.com. Shares of Alcoa, traditionally the first blue chip to report its results, are up about 5% so far in 2012. The broad market is entering what's expected to be a weak earnings season with analysts forecasting a drop of roughly 1.7% in profits for components of the S&P 500, the first year-over-year decline since the third quarter of 2009. -- Written by Michael Baron in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron.