OSLO, July 28 -- Norwegian aluminium producer Norsk Hydro (NHY.OL: Quote) said the aluminium market may have hit its 2010 peak already in the second quarter and stuck to its forecast for 12 percent growth in its upstream and downstream markets.
Hydro posted above-forecast April-June core earnings and said global aluminium markets remain oversupplied even as demand picks up along with a moderate recovery in economic growth.
Bigger peer Alcoa (AA.N: Quote) also reported better-than-expected second quarter profits but suggested that the aluminium sector was picking up speed.
Hydro's underlying earnings before tax and interest stood at 1.1 billion crowns ($178.2 million) in April-June, against a loss of 618 million a year ago and expectations for a profit of 900 million in a Reuters poll of 11 analysts.
Europe's third-biggest aluminium producer, whose business extends from smelting aluminium to selling metal sheets to carmaking and construction companies, attributed the results to higher volumes, firm margins and tight cost control in a "seasonally-strong quarter".
But it was less upbeat on the rest of 2010, even though it affirmed its market demand target of 12 percent this year.
"There is much evidence to suggest the second quarter will be the strongest of 2010," Chief Executive Officer Svein Richard Brandtzaeg told a news conference.
Brandtzaeg told Reuters he expected Hydro's earnings in the second half of 2010 to be weaker than in the first half but did not see weakening in 2011 compared to this year.
Even with improving consumption, Hydro said the production it curtailed -- about a quarter of its overall capacity -- was unlikely to be restored before at least 2011.
"I cannot foresee restarting this capacity in 2010," Chief Financial Officer Joergen Arentz Rostrup told Reuters.
He expected aluminium inventories to be mostly steady going forward, or rising somewhat.
Shares in Norsk Hydro were flat at 1218 GMT, while Oslo's index was up 0.5 percent. The stock is up about 25 percent so far in July.
"They are doing particularly well in the upstream business, with higher prices, higher volumes and lower costs than expected," Pareto analyst Samir Bendriss said.
Hydro said global demand for primary aluminium, excluding China, strengthened in the second quarter reaching an annualized consumption of around 24 million tonnes. Production outside China increased to 25 million tonnes on an annualized basis.
"Production was relatively stable at around the same level resulting in a balanced market during the quarter," it said, adding that it expected a market surplus in 2010.
Hydro said its Qatalum plant in Qatar will continue incurring operating losses during the ramp-up of production and is on schedule to hit full capacity in the fourth quarter, with Qatalum 2010 production seen at "more than 200,000 tonnes", Brandtzaeg told Reuters. ($1=6.172 Norwegian Crown)