NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Alcoa Inc. on Tuesday reported fourth-quarter earnings that met Wall Street's expectations, and the company said it expects slightly higher demand for aluminum this year. The sluggish global economy has weakened prices for aluminum used in everything from airplanes to soda cans. But Alcoa forecast demand growing 7 percent in 2013, up from a 6 percent gain in 2012. It sees the best prospects in aerospace but slower improvement in demand for autos, packaging, and building and construction materials. Separately, the company announced that Chief Financial Officer Charles D. McLane Jr., 59, will retire and be replaced by William F. Oplinger, the chief operating officer of Alcoa's primary-products business unit. The change will happen April 1. Oplinger, 45, joined Alcoa in 2000 and has held several finance and planning jobs. He is on the executive council, which plots company strategy. In the fourth quarter, Alcoa's net income was $242 million, or 21 cents per share. That includes one-time gains like income from selling a hydroelectric project on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Without those gains, the company would have made 6 cents per share â¿¿ exactly what analysts expected, according to FactSet â¿¿ on revenue of $5.90 billion. Sales were higher than the $5.58 billion that analysts predicted. A year ago, the company posted a fourth-quarter loss of $191 million, or 18 cents per share, on revenue of $5.99 billion, and a loss after special items of 3 cents per share. The company said it hit record profits in its aluminum-rolling and product-making businesses while cutting costs in its mining and refining or "upstream" segment. Chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld said the company overcame volatile aluminum prices and global economic weakness and was in "strong position to maximize profitable growth" in 2013. Kleinfeld said aerospace sales were helped by aircraft-order backlogs at Airbus and Boeing, plus improved profits at the world's airlines.
The price that Alcoa received for aluminum fell 2 percent from a year ago but rose nearly 5 percent from the third quarter. Shipments were flat from a year ago.The low prices were a factor in the announcement last month by Moody's Investor Service that it could downgrade Alcoa's credit rating to junk status. Alcoa has been trying to reduce debt to keep its investment-grade rating. In the fourth quarter, it cut spending by 12 percent to $6.23 billion. Alcoa is the first company in the Dow Jones industrial average to report fourth-quarter earnings. Because it makes aluminum for so many key industries, investors study Alcoa's results for clues about the health and direction of the overall economy. Alcoa shares ended regular trading where they began, unchanged at $9.10. In after-hours trading following the earnings report, the stock rose 8 cents to $9.18.