Alcoa kicked off earnings season by hitting its earnings target Tuesday as cost cuts helped offset a drop in aluminum prices.
The company also said it expects global aluminum demand to rise to 7 percent for 2013, up from 6 percent in 2012.
"What we're seeing in the world market and our end markets is China is clearly coming back," said the company's CEO, Klaus Kleinfeld, on CNBC. "I would not be surprised if we saw GDP growth above 8 percent. Europe is muddling through, better than most people would have expected ... So the eyes are basically on the U.S."
Investors cheered the report, sending shares of the the largest U.S. aluminum producer up after-hours. (Click here to get the latest quote.)
For the fourth quarter, the company reported net income of $242 million, or 21 cents per share, compared with a net loss of $191 million, or 18 cents per share, in the year-ago period.
Excluding items, the company reported earnings of 6 cents per share, above the quarterly loss of 3 cents a share it posted in the year-earlier period.
Revenue decreased 2 percent to $5.9 billion from $5.99 billion a year ago.
"On the outlook side, I'm more optimistic that we're going in 2013 into a year that has upside potential compared to where we came from," Kleinfeld said. "The big issue is what is going to happen on the debt-ceiling side because the debate around it is more damaging than resolving the whole thing."
In the end markets, Kleinfeld said "some of the things we are seeing in the U.S. are pretty encouraging" and cited aerospace, automotive, and building and construction.
"All the indicators on building and construction in North America are showing positive signs," he said.
Analysts had expected the company to report earnings excluding items of 6 cents a share on $5.60 billion in revenue, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters.
"I think it was a good solid quarter," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Solaris Asset Management. "Not a barnburner but a good quarter. It's certainly important in this type of environment to look at revenues. Corporate margins are near all-time highs and the gains in earnings are going to come from revenue growth and the fact that Alcoa was able to beat revenue expectations perhaps indicates that we could see more of the same from other companies as they report."
Investors tend to scrutinize Alcoa's results for hints on where the overall economy is headed, as the company's aluminum products are used in the automotive, appliance and airline industries.
Overall, this earnings season is expected to show modest growth: S&P 500 companies are expected to post earnings growth of 2.8 percent for the fourth quarter, up from the barely positive 0.1 percent growth in the third quarter, according to Thomson Reuters.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had fourth-quarter net income at 23 cents a share. The correct number is 21 cents a share.