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Loss fails to quash Century’s optimism

Keywords: Tags  Century Aluminum, Michael Bless, earnings results, Mount Holly project, Ravenswood plant, Hawesville smelter, electricity costs, aluminum Michael Cowden

CHICAGO — Century Aluminum Co. remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects of the aluminum market in the United States and abroad despite posting a full-year net loss.

"We are witnessing a modest improvement in general market conditions," Michael Bless, president and chief executive officer of the Monterey, Calif.-based aluminum producer, said in a Feb. 21 earnings report. "In the U.S., our key markets remain generally strong, with encouraging conditions in important sectors such as transportation."

Abroad, economic activity in China has "at least stabilized," with signs of faster growth in the country emerging, Bless said. In the eurozone area, industrial activity remains depressed but the risk of a sovereign or banking crisis has eased, he added.

Aluminum prices have also exhibited less volatility, at the same time that regional premiums "remain robust," Bless said. Still, he said the company remains cautious due to potential political turmoil in the United States and Europe.

Century Aluminum reported $35.6-million net loss in 2012, in contrast to $10.4 million in 2011 net income allocated to common shareholders, on sales that slipped 6.2 percent to $1.27 billion.

In the fourth quarter, the company’s net loss narrowed to $6.9 million from $31.1 million a year earlier, on sales that inched 0.2 percent lower to $317.7 million.

Century shipped 646,529 tonnes of primary aluminum in 2012, up 7.4 percent from the 602,142 tonnes shipped in 2011. In the final quarter of last year, the company shipped 162,303 tonnes, up 4.3 percent from 155,659 tonnes in the fourth quarter of 2011.

On the operations front, Century said its Mount Holly, S.C., plant has concluded an agreement to take advantage of excess power available outside the region. It also noted progress in finding a power agreement that could allow it to reopen its Ravenswood, W.Va., facility.

"The political leadership in each of these states has taken an aggressive role in preserving this critical economic activity," Bless said. "We are now working hard in Kentucky to achieve the same result."

Century and Big Rivers Electric Corp., Henderson, Ky., are looking to negotiate a solution to a dispute over power at the aluminum producer’s Hawesville, Ky., smelter that would allow Century to tap the free market for electricity (, Feb. 19).

"With the appropriate market-based power agreement, we are confident we will be able to operate and invest in the plant for years to come," Bless added.

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