updated 1/14/2004 5:27:32 PM ET 2004-01-14T22:27:32

A late-year surge in aluminum prices more than doubled profits for Alcoa Inc., the world's largest aluminum producer reported Thursday in its fourth-quarter financial report.

For the quarter ended Dec. 31, Alcoa recorded profits of $291 million, or 33 cents per share, compared with a loss of $223 million, or 26 cents per share, during the same period last year.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had expected a profit of 34 cents per share.

The Pittsburgh-based company reported profits of $938 million on the year, or $1.09 per share, compared with $420 million, or 49 cents per share, in 2002.

"Over the year, we improved productivity, managed capital, and worked every lever in our control to offset cost increases for raw materials, energy, benefits, and the impact of a weakened dollar," said Alain Belda, chairman and chief executive. "The result was consistently improving profitability, a considerably stronger balance sheet."

The company released its earnings report following the end of regular trading.

Quarterly revenue rose 9 percent, to $5.5 billion. For the full year, Alcoa said revenue was up 6 percent to $21.5 billion.

Demand for alumina and aluminum led to an improved market, Belda said.

The company said profits were also up because of aggressive cost cutting. Alcoa said Thursday it had surpassed its goal of $1 billion in annual savings.

Belda also said the company had retired more than $1.2 billion in debt over the year.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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