As the world's third-richest person and most celebrated investor, Warren Buffett attracts a lot of attention. Thousands try to glean what they can from his thinking processes and track his investments.
We can't know for sure whether Buffett is about to buy Alcoa (NYS: AA) -- he hasn't specifically mentioned anything about it to me -- but we can discover whether it's the sort of stock that might interest him. Answering that question could also reveal whether it's a stock that should interest us. In this series, we do just that.
Writing in a recent 10-K, Buffett lays out the qualities he looks for in an investment. In addition to adequate size, proven management, and a reasonable valuation, he demands:
Consistent earnings power.
Good returns on equity with limited or no debt.
Management in place.
Simple, non-techno-mumbo-jumbo businesses.
Does Alcoa meet Buffett's standards?
1. Earnings power
Buffett is famous for betting on a sure thing. For that reason, he likes to see companies with demonstrated earnings stability.
Let's examine Alcoa's earnings and free cash flow history:
Source: S&P Capital IQ.
Source: S&P Capital IQ.
Like many other companies, Alcoa's earnings had been hit hard during the economic downturn, but it's returned to profitability in the past few years.
2. Return on equity and debt
Return on equity is a great metric for measuring both management's effectiveness and the strength of a company's competitive advantage or disadvantage -- a classic Buffett consideration. When considering return on equity, it's important to make sure a company doesn't have an enormous debt burden, because that will skew your calculations and make the company look much more efficient than it is.
As a commodity business, Alcoa generates fairly low returns on equity -- 3% over the past year, 4% on average over the past five years -- while carrying a moderate 55% debt-to-equity ratio.
CEO Klaus-Christian Kleinfeld has been at the job since 2008. Before that, he helped manage Siemens for a number of years before a brief stint as Alcoa's chief operating officer.
Aluminum production isn't particularly susceptible to technological disruption, though it is a commodity business that can be subject to a fair bit of cyclicality, as we've seen.
The Foolish conclusion
So is Alcoa a Buffett stock? Probably not. The company has a tenured CEO and operates in a fairly straightforward industry, but it doesn't particularly exhibit another of the characteristics of a quintessential Buffett investment: high returns on equity with limited debt. To stay up to speed on Alcoa's progress, simply add it to your stock Watchlist. If you don't have one yet, you can create a Watchlist of your favorite stocks.
If you're interested in some other Buffett-esque blue-chip stock ideas that have big international growth prospects, check out "3 American Companies Set to Dominate the World." I invite you to download this special report for a limited time -- it's free.
At the time thisarticle was published Ilan Moscovitzdoesn't own shares of any company mentioned.You can follow him on Twitter, where he goes by@TMFDada. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.