(Bloomberg) -- Alcoa Corp. gained the most in more than two years after reporting first-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ expectations, with aluminum prices surging and the company projecting further strength as economies reopen.Shares in the biggest U.S. maker of the metal climbed as much as 9.7% to the highest since November 2018. The stock gained 8.4% to $35.59 at 3:44 p.m. in New York.Alcoa was already on a roll before reporting earnings late Thursday, with shares jumping six-fold from a pandemic low last year. Aluminum demand is rising just as China, the largest producer of the metal, pushes to cut carbon emissions, spurring expectations the Asian nation will curb supply expansions. Alcoa told analysts Thursday it will continue to focus on paying down net debt with cash on hand, and that it expects to get within its target range this year.“With pricing tailwinds continuing, we expect Alcoa’s results to improve further,” David Gagliano, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, said in a note to clients. “Alcoa is rapidly approaching the high end of its net debt target range, in turn opening the door for possible shareholder returns later in 2021 in our view.”The Pittsburgh-based company said in its earnings statement that it expects a strong 2021 based on continued economic recovery and increased demand for aluminum in all end markets. Alcoa Chief Executive Officer Roy Harvey said last month that China is taking meaningful steps to rein in production, calling it a “game-changer” for the industry after years of gluts.Benchmark aluminum prices surged 25% from the end of September through March, marking the biggest gain over that period since 2006.Alcoa reported earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization of $521 million, topping the $450.8 million average of six analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg and the highest since 2018. Sales rose to $2.87 billion, compared with the $2.62 billion analysts had forecast.(Updates with share price movement and analyst comment)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.