Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on December 6, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

By The Wall Street Journal


Alcoa Inc., which had been Alcoa Warrick Operations employee of 36 years Fred Westbrook, 59, of Evansville, Ind. inspects the finished rolls of aluminum as they comes off the last stage of the production line in this April 7, 2006, at the Alcoa Warrick Operations in Newburgh, Ind. (AP Photo/ Daniel R. Patmore, File)counting on obtaining discarded aluminum assets from a merged BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto PLC, has fewer strong options to improve its prospects amid one of the worst aluminum markets in decades now that the deal has collapsed.

With aluminum inventories just shy of record levels, prices at their lowest level in 2008 and nearly half of the world’s aluminum production unprofitable, Alcoa is scrambling to cut capacity and find buyers for some of its downstream businesses, which is proving more difficult given the tight capital markets and reluctance of many companies to take on debt.

Neither of those efforts, however, addresses the company’s fundamental challenge: Alcoa remains the high-cost producer of the world’s major aluminum makers when compared with Rio Tinto’s Alcan and Russia’s United Co. Rusal. Knowing that BHP wasn’t keen on the aluminum market, Alcoa had been hoping to buy all or part of Alcan, which has lower energy costs, after BHP bought Rio Tinto.

With that prospect off, speculation is mounting that Alcoa will look at other avenues.

“Everybody understands the current economic situation in the world” requires certain steps, said Alcoa spokesman Kevin Lowery. “In the interim, we are taking steps to reduce costs and taking steps to position ourselves so we will be stronger than competitors. That is what we are focusing on.”

John Tumazos, an analyst with Very Independent Research, said the company has few good options as its influence in the commodities world is nowhere as solid as it once was. “They need to idle more smelters than they have cut,” he said.

So far, Alcoa is keeping a lid on its options, but industry observers say it could deepen its existing relationship with its partner Aluminum Corp. of China, also known as Chinalco. The two companies own a 9 percent stake in Rio Tinto that they jointly purchased for $14 billion in January. The stake is valued at about 80 percent less since BHP’s planned takeover of Rio collapsed last month.

Alcoa could increase its existing stake, betting on a rise in commodity prices. It could sell its stake, which would bring about $200 million in cash to its coffers and represent a huge loss from its initial $1 billion investment.

The two companies could combine into a single entity. Such a deal, while in no way an easy task because it would result in Chinese ownership of a key U.S. company, could work for both sides. A combined Alcoa and Chinalco would make it one of the biggest producers of aluminum and both alumina and bauxite, necessary ingredients for aluminum production.

In addition, a combined company would be able to better rationalize expensive smelters and other production facilities in Europe, the United States and China, leaving just the lowest-cost facilities to compete with Rio Tinto and UC Rusal.

Tumazos said Alcoa’s sagging stock price, which is hovering around $10, makes the company a fairly inexpensive purchase. “Chinalco could buy Alcoa for about $8 billion plus a premium,” he said. “That is less than it paid for a stake in Rio.”




  1. graham said

    Zale seems to be the only one able to purchase Alcoa. If it does not make a move then something is happening and it will not be a welcome contribution to the Alcoa stock price or future.

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