Ahead Of The Bell: Alcoa

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ A Citi analyst on Wednesday backed his "Neutral" rating for Alcoa Inc., saying that he doesn't expect enough profit growth to justify picking up the aluminum producer's shares.

The sluggish global economy has weakened demand for everything from food cans to airplanes, sending aluminum prices down.

But despite the lower prices, Alcoa reported fourth-quarter earnings late Tuesday that met Wall Street's expectations and said it expects slightly higher demand for aluminum this year.

Analyst Brian Yu said that while the company has done a good job boosting profitability at some of its businesses despite low aluminum prices, prices will need to rise closer to their 2011 average of $1.10 per pound in order to boost earnings.

Yu, who also backed his $10 price target for the stock, said he currently expects aluminum prices of 95 cents per pound this year and 99 cents per pound in 2014.

Alcoa said Tuesday that it expects demand to grow 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.

But Yu said that for Alcoa's "upstream" businesses, which includes mining and refining and is tied more to aluminum pricing, the company's modest surplus of 535,000 tons this year means that pricing improvements will be minimal.

Alcoa shares rose 21 cents, or 2 percent, to $9.31 in premarket trading.
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