NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Aluminum producer Alcoa kicked off earnings season Tuesday with a surprise first-quarter profit, a trend investors can only hope will continue given the low expectations as the quarterly reporting period gets underway.
Alcoa said it earned $94 million, or 9 cents per share, during the first three months of the year. Revenues edged up slightly to $6 billion, despite a 9% percent drop in aluminum prices
The results surprised analysts who were expecting Alcoa to post a second straight quarterly loss and declining sales, sending shares of Alcoa (Fortune 500) higher in after-hours trading.,
Alcoa's results are especially encouraging as fears about an economic slowdown in China, the world's biggest producer and consumer of aluminum, continue to build.
"Challenges remain in this economy, but we approach them better prepared than ever before," said Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld in a statement.
The company reiterated its expectations for aluminum demand to grow 7% in 2012, following 10% growth in 2011.
While Alcoa has lost a bit of its reputation as a bellwether, its earnings are in the spotlight each quarter since it's the first Dow company to deliver results.
This quarter's results are especially in focus since earnings expectations are low overall, with analysts expecting companies in the S&P 500 to show an 0.1% drop in profits, according the FactSet Research. While that's only a meager decline, it does mark the end of a nine-quarter earnings winning streak.
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