Following the news, the aluminum maker's shares ticked upward after the closing bell.
Net income was $24 million, or 2 cents a share, compared with a loss of $143 million, or 13 cents, a year earlier.
Excluding special items, the company earned 120 million, or 11 cents a share, from $32 million or 3 cents a share a year ago. Revenue eased to $5.77 billion from $5.83 billion a year ago.
Analysts had expected the company to report earnings excluding items of 5 cents a share on $5.63 billion in revenue, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters.
CEO Klaus Kleinfeld said on CNBC that Alcoa does not expect to be negatively affected by the reported slowdown in China, and in fact has increased its projection for aluminum demand growth there to 12 percentage points.
He added that it was a quarter in which the company was "firing on all cylinders, defying all the elements" and "getting better on the commodities business."
In its press release, Alcoa reaffirmed its 2013 global aluminum growth forecast of 7 percent
"In spite of lower prices, you see each consecutive quarter of performance improvement," Kleinfeld said. "Our repositioning is working."
He highlighted two focuses: "Building out our value-added businesses, getting more innovation in there. It's working. We have tripled the profitablility of this." On the commodities buisiness, he said the company's "getting out of the high-cost positions."
Although Alcoa traditionally kicked off earnings season, this quarterly release is the first since Alcoa left the Dow Jones Industrial Average in September.
Still, Alcoa remains a bellwether for commodities, and it is still the first S&P 500 component that has its quarter ending in September to report.