Aluminum giant Alcoa reported on Thursday a $2.3 billion loss in the fourth quarter mainly due to a $1.7 billion write-down tied to smelting acquisitions. The hefty loss compared with a profit of $242 million in the year-ago period and came on revenues of $5.59 billion, below the $5.77 billion expected by analysts. Excluding special items, profits were $40 million, or 4 cents per share, 3 cents shy of expectations. Alcoa earnings are often viewed as the unofficial kick-off of the quarterly earnings season. Results from JPMorgan Chase, General Electric and other companies will be released next week. Alcoa chief executive Klaus Kleinfeld characterized the operating performance as "strong" and said the company had made progress in building its "value-added" businesses, such as producing light-weight aluminum increasingly desired by the auto industry due to fuel economy concerns. Alcoa projects 7 percent aluminum growth in 2014, the same as in 2013. Sectors expected to see growth include aerospace, automotive and building and construction. The company disclosed a $1.7 billion write-down on 1998 and 2000 acquisitions that included smelting assets. The value of these assets have diminished due to lower aluminum prices and other "unfavorable" business trends, Alcoa said. Aluminum prices fell 7.2 percent in the quarter compared with the year-ago period, according to Alcoa data. Earnings were also hit by a $243 million charge to settle criminal charges announced earlier Thursday that an Alcoa-led joint venture paid Bahrain officials huge bribes to secure business. Alcoa and the joint venture, Alcoa World Alumina, agreed to pay $384 million in to settle one charge of violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Alcoa said it had cooperated with the investigation and "welcomes the resolution of this legacy legal matter with the US government."