Higher aluminum prices and operating efficiencies propelled

Alcoa's

(AA) - Get Report

first-quarter earnings past expectations by 4%, the company said Thursday.

President and Chief Executive Alain Belda said in a statement the "significant" improvement for the quarter spawned the "strongest quarter Alcoa has ever had."

Alcoa reported earnings of 95 cents for the first quarter of 2000, up 58% from the similar quarter in 1999 and north of the consensus estimate of 91 cents from

First Call/Thomson Financial

.

Investors greeted the news happily and sent shares of Alcoa up 2, or 3%, to 71 5/8. (Alcoa closed up 1 3/4, or 3%, at 70 15/16).

Revenues for the quarter rose 14% to $4.53 million on net income of $355 million, up from $3.99 million in sales and income of $221 million from the first quarter in 1999.

The Pittsburgh-based company said in a statement that it had realized $832 million in annualized cost savings toward its $1.1 billion target by January 1, next year.

The company made its biggest strides in after-tax operating income coming from its primary aluminum and alumina divisions. Revenues for the two segments rose 14% and 29% respectively between the two quarters.

Sales for its flat-rolled and engineered product divisions jumped 11% and 12% respectively.

Alcoa is the leading producer of aluminum, and also participates in mining, refining, smelting, fabricating and recycling.