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Aerospace overhang emerging: Kaiser

Keywords: Tags  Kaiser Aluminum, Jack Hockema, automotive, aerospace, acquisitions, aluminum, inventory overhang, Boeing Dreamliner Michael Cowden

CHICAGO — Kaiser Aluminum Corp. has seen an inventory overhang develop across a host of products consumed by the aerospace sector, despite robust backlogs for products such as commercial airframes.

The excess inventory has hit "across the spectrum," Kaiser chairman, president and chief executive officer Jack Hockema said, including not only aerospace extrusions but also drawn tubes, cold-finished bar and even sheet. Plate appears to be the only product not to have been hit by the supply overhang.

But Hockema said during an earnings conference call that he expects the inventory situation to adjust in the next few months and not drag on quarter after quarter, as a plate overhang did several years ago. In fact, the backlog in aircraft demand should continue into the next decade, he said, brushing off concerns about the grounding of Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner (, Jan. 22). Commercial airframe build rates should continue to grow by double-digit percentages in 2013 before slowing to single digits in future years, Hockema said.

On the automotive front, Kaiser expects to see light-vehicle production growth drop into the single digits for the next few years after surging 17 percent in 2012, Hockema said. But Kaiser’s participation in the automotive aluminum market should grow faster than the build rate as auto platforms integrate increasing amounts of aluminum.

Demand for aluminum extrusions from the automotive industry should grow at roughly 5 percent per year, Hockema said, which could help to make facilities such as Kaiser’s extrusion plant in Kalamazoo, Mich., "the gifts that keep on giving."

However, the general engineering and industrial sector remains a concern, he noted.

While Kaiser expects a less-than-stellar first half to 2013, it remains bullish on the second half of the year and the long term, Hockema said.

Given that outlook and the company’s financial position, "we have the financial strength and flexibility to pursue additional capital-efficient investment opportunities and potential value-creating acquisitions," he said. Asked what Kaiser might target, Hockema said the company likely would look first toward "adjacent" acquisitions but also might consider downstream opportunities.

Pressed on when the company might move forward on the next phase of a planned expansion of heat-treat plate capacity at the company’s Trentwood, Wash., facility, Hockema pointed to 2013 capital expenditure estimates in a range of $50 million to $80 million. That suggests the expansion could be undertaken this year, but Kaiser also could wait until as late 2016 to "pull the trigger," he said.

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