While many of its aluminum products may be lightweight, Alcoa is anything but. The company is among the world's top producers of alumina (aluminum's principal ingredient from bauxite) and aluminum. Operations include bauxite mining, alumina refining, and aluminum smelting; primary products include alumina and alumina-based chemicals, automotive components, and sheet aluminum for beverage cans. Markets include the aerospace, automotive, and construction industries. Non-aluminum products include precision castings and aerospace and industrial fasteners. Although a global company, Alcoa does about half of its business in the US; Australia, Brazil, and European countries make up its largest international markets.
Despite a volatile year for aluminum markets in 2011, Alcoa saw a 19% increase in sales, posting nearly $25 billion, compared with $21 billion in 2010. Alcoa's net income shot up 141% in 2011, to $611 million. The increase resulted from a rise in realized prices for alumina and aluminum, as well as better pricing in the midstream segment, and higher sales volumes in the company's Primary Metals segment. The company also cites its productivity, volume, and price mix improvements of more than $1 billion for its increase in profits, and strong organic growth for its hike in sales.
Although Alcoa had expected a recovery in 2011, economic conditions remained sluggish, and by the end of the year aluminum prices were falling while costs of raw materials were rising. In early 2012 the company closed a smelter in Tennessee and two potlines (rows of electrolytic cells used in production) in Texas. It also planned to curtail operations at three European aluminum smelters. The cutbacks are part of Alcoa's restructuring of its Global Primary Products business, intended to reduce the company's global smelting capacity by 12%, or 531,000 metric tons. Alcoa's streamlining has not extended to Canada, where the company is making hefty investments in three smelters in Quebec.
The company expected aluminum demand to pick up later in 2012, projecting an increase of 7%. However, prices for alumina and aluminum (which make up 80% of group sales) continued to be low, down as much as 12% in 2012. Alcoa decided to try to soften the blow of declining prices by growing its downstream and engineering businesses. It is focusing on the aerospace industry and on its Engineered Products and Solutions (EPS) division, which makes aerospace components. EPS is expected to generate revenue of up to $6.2 billion by 2013, up $1 billion from 2011. Among Alcoa's aerospace customers is Boeing.
Even in energy-hungry China, efforts to fight inflation have affected production and global trading and prices of metals. Globally, Alcoa has a presence in both China and the Middle East. In the former, it began by forming a strategic alliance with Aluminum Corporation of China (Chinalco), enabling Alcoa to partake directly in the world's fastest-growing aluminum market. Alcoa owns more than a dozen operating locations in China. In 2012 Alcoa formed a joint venture with China Power Investment Corporation to produce high-end fabricated aluminum products. Alcoa owns a majority stake in the Shanghai-based JV.
Expanding into the Middle East beginning in 2009, Alcoa and Saudi Arabian mining company Ma'aden invested $10.8 billion in a joint venture to build the first integrated aluminum industrial complex (construction began in 2012) in Saudi Arabia. Alcoa holds 25% of the JV. By the end of 2014, the venture expects to develop the capacity to produce about 100,000 metric tons of aluminum products such as automotive sheet, building and construction sheet, and foil.
The company acquired the aerospace fastener business of Cleveland-based TransDigm Group in 2011. The deal bolsters Alcoa's existing fastening systems operations with complementary products for use in critical airframe, engine, and equipment applications.
Also in 2011, Alcoa ventured into what some are calling "urban mining," the electronics-waste recycling business. The company acquired a small stake in Electronic Recyclers International, a global firm that strips metals and other minerals out of computers and other electronic components, for $10 million. Alcoa is seeking lower cost sources for raw materials and sees electronic-waste recycling as providing a portion of its future supply.
The company also acquired full control of the Evermore Recycling joint venture, a used beverage can recycler, in 2012. Alcoa took ownership and operation of Evermore from former JV partner Novelis, and made the company part of its Global Packaging unit. – less