If you're like a lot of investors, then the eurozone crisis has you so spooked that you've trimmed way back on equities and now hold a lot of cash. This is not necessarily bad, especially if you'll need the money to cover short-term obligations. But if you're investing for something far in the future, like retirement or your kid's college education, then I think you should seriously consider getting at least some of the cash back into equities.
Assuming you'd want to ease back in and not commit too much to stocks all at once, it would make good sense to select investments that can give the most bang for your buck without exposing you to too much risk. It just so happens, I have one in mind...
Long a bellwether of its industry and one of the 30 components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, this stock could be the one of the best to own going into 2012. Its main catalyst is rising global aluminum demand, which has just about doubled since 2006 and is on course to double again by 2020, especially on increased consumption in China. I can't think of a better way to play aluminum than investing in this industry giant, which, at about $10 a share, is trading 80% below its five-year high.
I'm talking about Alcoa Inc. (NYSE: AA), the largest player in the global aluminum market. Alcoa makes 10% of the world's aluminum and 20% of all alumina, and these products make up about 80% of the company's $24.6 billion of annual revenue.
Dominance in the market for alumina -- aluminum oxide that's smelted into aluminum -- is a key advantage for Alcoa. Alumina is in short supply and Alcoa is the world's biggest producer, churning out 14 million metric tons each year. Revenue from alumina could skyrocket in coming years as Alcoa and other producers increasingly separate the price from aluminum. Alumina was historically priced as a fixed percentage of aluminum and this probably artificially depressed the price, because alumina is scarce.
To increase output while keeping costs low, Alcoa has been expanding operations in Brazil and Russia, where energy is about 35% cheaper than in the United States and Europe. Among the newest Brazilian assets is a bauxite mine, which is used in making alumina, that has been up and running since September 2009 and gives Alcoa access to one of the world's largest bauxite deposits -- some 700 million metric tons. In June 2009, the company announced the opening of a new coating line in Samara, Russia. The line produces 60,000 tons of coated sheet aluminum each year, which is used to make beer and soft-drink cans for manufacturers in Russia and across Europe.
Another key initiative, announced Oct. 17 of this year, is a joint venture with the Saudi Arabian mining company Ma'aden to develop an integrated aluminum complex in Saudi Arabia and bring it online in 2014. "The new complex will capitalize on Saudi Arabia's fully developed infrastructure and low-cost natural gas supply while granting entry into the growing Middle East," points out Bridget Freas, an analyst at Morningstar. Among the complex's components will be a bauxite mine with a capacity of 4 million metric tons per year, and an alumina refinery with 1.8 million metric tons of annual capacity.
Although China and other developing countries should be among Alcoa's biggest customers going forward, the company could see a large spike in aluminum demand from domestic automakers, too. Because aluminum is much lighter than steel, it's better for creating fuel-efficient vehicles. So the automakers will probably use progressively greater quantities to comply with new laws requiring cars and trucks to average 33.5 miles per gallon by 2016. There should continue to be strong demand from the aerospace, commercial transportation and turbine industries, as well.
Risks to Consider: Alcoa has significant exposure to the struggling construction industry through its Engineered Products and Solutions segment, which generates 22% of total revenue. Sluggishness in construction is likely to continue weighing on profits for some time.
Action to Take --> Despite recent moderation in the price of aluminum and ongoing weakness in construction, analysts foresee earnings of $1.10 a share this year, an incredible jump of 340% from the $0.25 a share posted in 2010. Earnings are projected to rise another 27% in 2012, to $1.40 a share. Assuming the global economy continues to improve, I see no reason why earnings shouldn't continue to grow at a healthy pace for the next several years or more.
Consider buying shares of Alcoa, one of the aluminum industry's leading players and a company with well-defined plans for higher output at a lower cost. Shares are incredibly cheap at nine times estimated earnings, setting the stock up for a bull run that could lead to the stock doubling, perhaps even tripling, during the next three to five years.