Trading a stock on a hunch in the prelude to earnings defines risk, but buying Alcoa (AA) in the lead-up to this particular quarter's earnings might take the risky cake.
At best, Alcoa, a peddler of metal for everything from beer cans to cars, should have been flat yesterday, but traders bid it up 33 cents to $9.12. It was an otherwise lackluster Columbus Day trading day, during which caution and dread for the coming round of earnings reports floated thick in the air. That, of course, made the excitable rush of traders into Alcoa even stranger.
Alcoa reports after the close of trading today.
Again: anyone who can, in the hours before an earnings report, talk about it in anything other than broad strokes is kidding you. That, though, is why you should not be chasing this stock, especially since the little we know is not promising.
Alcoa is traditionally the first Dow component to report earnings, but a little over a month ago, FedEx (FDX), the ultimate cyclical and over time one of the few companies known for submitting accurate economic takes, took fists to their forecasts.
The delivery giant and cyclical of all cyclicals said that earnings for their quarter, which ended August 31, are expected to be in the disappointing range of $1.37 to $1.43 a share, down from $1.46 a year ago and worse, down from as high as $1.60 in their previous estimate. That troubling turn of events is heightened by the fact that UPS (UPS) and Caterpillar (CAT) also turned dour, with both citing factors like weakness in China and Europe, which will obviously impact Alcoa too. When the currently fractured American economy is your bright spot, you know things are bleak.
In fact, FedEx, Caterpillar and UPS are not alone. Negative preannouncements have been running ahead of positive ones by a factor of almost five. Should Alcoa really be standing apart?
Alcoa, for its part, is expected to report a breakeven quarter, compared to 15 cents a year earlier. Revenue for the aluminum maker is expected at $5.57 billion, a 13.2% drop. And that's if things go well.
Advocates are now reduced to articles conjuring up the prospect of a break-up, though built on the conjecture-not hard information--of a few stray analysts.
"Alcoa Seen Unlocking 63% Gain by Separating," Business Week said in a headline. Good luck there. Stranger things have surely happened, but even in the long-shot event Alcoa does split, it would take forever. As for today, with so many companies sounding alarms about their own fates, this earnings season is probably best started by holding off on the blind confidence Alcoa.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.