Aluminum is used in many manufactured products, so if there is an economic revival starting up from the doldrums of this agonizing Depression, Alcoa should be showing a strong profit growth. Well, here is the story and it ain't pretty. SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Alcoa Inc., as is the custom, ushered in the fourth-quarter earnings season after Monday's closing bell. For those who like to think a big aluminum company can double as a barometer for how the rest of the earnings season is likely to go, it was an ugly start. Yes, Alcoa (AA 16.51, +0.43, +2.53%) managed to trim its losses in the fourth quarter to a mere $277 million. And sales were up, a good sign. But after stripping out all the one-time items, the company's bottom line showed a profit of only one cent a share. Wall Street was looking for five cents. See Alcoa's results. Down went the stock. When trading resumed after-hours, investors punished it with a 5% drop, cutting its regular session advance in half. Apart from missing estimates, analysts were not thrilled by what appears to be Alcoa's never-ending effort to get a firm grip on costs, a campaign that cost over 21,000 jobs last year and resulted in a 52% drop in capital spending. The slashing and burning is chilling, but understandable. Alcoa, like so many other big international companies, started 2009 in the midst of an international economic crisis with absolutely no clue when they were going to hit bottom.